Life’s been pretty good to cerebral 12-year-old Katherine-Charlotte (Kasey) Morgan, until she discovers a steadily growing red lump on her ankle. After a bone scan, germophobe Kasey finds herself in the hospital with a serious disease (“osteo-something-something-itis”). She’s hooked up to an IV (which she names “Ivy”) for a lengthy course of antibiotics and antimicrobial therapy. Then she’s hit with even more bad news: she has to stay for a month – in the geriatric ward.
To cope in “the loneliest place in the world,” Kasey writes to her best friend, Nina, chronicling the details of her hospital recovery. Through these 26 thoughtful letters we experience the trials (putrid meals, no WiFi) and triumphs (a visit from the family dog Squeakers) of her road back to health.
Kasey encounters a vast and varied cast of characters, including nurses she labels “the Grumbler” and “the Night Owl,” a male patient she calls “the death snorer,” and 16-year-old Louise, who operates the hospital snack cart and feels like the older sister Kasey never had. And Kasey views Ivy – with its “liquid-bag face and long tube arms” – as an almost human companion. Ivy is Kasey’s bodyguard and healer. It’s also great company and a really good listener.
Initially creeped out by all the super-old people, Kasey soon befriends a number of patients, including the mute and toothless 94-year-old Missy Wong. They forge a deep bond, with Kasey pushing Missy around the ward in a wheelchair. The two pals even manage to sneak outside one night to enjoy the starry summer sky. Kasey begins to see the ward as “a very small town” and discovers that elderly people “are still people, after all.”
Age-appropriate and emotionally satisfying, Hughes’s latest novel pulls readers in with its refreshingly original, affecting storyline. But its real strength lies in the author’s memorable scenes and realistic prose, adeptly revealing the tender heart and boundless soul of a girl wise beyond her years.