A Review of The Book of Dahlia

Book of DhaliaI finished Elisa Albert’s The Book of Dahlia and I’m not quite as depressed as I thought I would be considering it’s about a young woman with terminal brain cancer.

Maybe it’s because the book is kind of depressing in a way that has nothing to do with Dahlia’s brain cancer. It seems Dahlia’s life went off track well before the tumor invaded her body. It all started off well though… two loving parents and an older brother who doted on her. But soon her self-centered mother abandons the family to return to Israel and “find herself,” her loving father becomes increasingly pathetic, and her brother completely hardens and turns away from his family, including the sister he adored.

It’s clear through flashbacks of her life that Dahlia is damaged. She can’t maintain one healthy relationship and she has no idea what she wants to do with herself besides smoke pot and spend her dad’s money. And, after years of trying to worm her way back into her brother’s heart, she’s cultivated a hatred she holds on to until the very end.

These are the tragedies of Dahlia’s life even before the tumor takes hold of her. Even then, she is not your normal fictional sick character. There is no positivity, little forgiveness and not a whole lot of change in attitude. And this is what I liked about the book. Dahlia is an anti-heroine. She’s not mushy and she’s hard to sympathize with sometimes… most times. Her tone, as narrator of her own story, is sarcastic, funny and very hipster.

Dahlia is often unlikable, but her story is engaging and unlike most cancer books. Certainly different than the Lurlene McDaniel novels about terminal illness I read as a child (strange, I know). While I can’t quite picture my mom enjoying the profanity-laced, inappropriate sex-filled stream of consciousness journey into Dahlia’s messed up life, but it was certainly an interesting spin.

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