In her work of non-fiction, author Alice Kuipers shares the story of a determined and talented Toronto figure skater and singer-songwriter whose life was tragically cut short.
When she was 17, Carley Allison was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of clear cell sarcoma on her trachea. Undeterred, she continued to sing with barely a lapse after her tracheostomy. After multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, Allison appeared to be in remission, but the disease returned in her lungs, and she died at age 19. Cancer never got the best of Allsion, however: Kuipers highlights the ways she lived the last years of her life on her own terms. She fundraised for hospitals, returned to skating, and shared her story with thousands of people online.
Allison’s blog and social media posts form the core of Always Smile, but Kuipers adds much more, including transcripts from YouTube videos and interviews with Allison’s family members, friends, and boyfriend. Kuipers, who never met Allison, also creates a number of scenes based on anecdotes shared by the teen’s loved ones. These stories, written from Allison’s point of view, help weave the various elements of Always Smile into a connected whole, adding important context and filling in gaps between the archived material.
It’s a surprising project for Kuipers, who is best known for her YA fiction, but she takes command of this unusual format. In the anecdotal sequences she mimics Carley’s voice and style flawlessly, while seemingly drawing on her own deep understanding of how teens think.
Heartbreaking and inspiring, Always Smile will appeal to a wide audience and may offer hope and inspiration to those fighting serious illnesses – which is exactly what Allison would have wanted.