The Probability of Miracles is the kind of book that will make you cry in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s. And not like a single, solitary tear, but actual sobs that would make anyone looking into your car wonder what the hell is wrong with you. Then you have to wander into the nearest CVS to get your shit together because you don’t want to walk into Trader Joe’s looking like you were crying in your car.
Released a year before The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Wendy Wunder’s book of teen love in the time of cancer manages to stand out from its successor in various ways that immediately made me like it more than the other. I will admit part of that may be because Stars had so much hype before I read it that it was impossible to measure up. The fact that the protagonist has cancer and is a teenager with some cynical views is the only similarity between the two novels. (Other than a comparison between x-rays and Christmas trees, is that a common simile or something else?)
Campbell has cancer. There’s no real easy way to say it because she’s aware that she’s dying, is going to be dead before she turns eighteen, and has basically given up on life. Her mom, Alicia, and little sister, Perry, haven’t though so when they suggest moving to Promise, Maine—a place where miracles are said to happen—she basically shrugs her shoulders and says, “Okay.”
They’ve tried everything after all: treatments, drugs, psychics, herbs, acupuncture. So what’s a little magic? They leave the manufactured magic of Disneyworld and the pseudo Polynesian world that they work in and make their way up to Maine, stopping along the way to visit Lily, her best friend who shares the same kind of cancer.
When they reach Maine, Cam tries to find scientific explanations for all of the crazy things that happen in Promise. Sunsets last for hours, there are rainbows at night, purple dandelions, snow in July, and a flock of flamingos flies in for the summer. There’s also a boy named Asher who seems to show up anytime Cam needs help, and there may be something there.
As much as Cam tries to avoid believing in things such as true love, hope, and magic, Promise throws things her way to show her that “thoughts are energy, energy is matter, and matter never disappears.” Along the way she checks off items on her Flamingo List and finds things that would be worth living for.
First, yes, this book is as heartbreaking as any book about a teenager with cancer could be, but it does it in a way that make you feel…happy? Campbell is a relatable protagonist, trying to be a normal teen even with her definitely not normal life. Her cynicism and disbelief in religion, true love, and hope are all believable and explained, but with every step she takes her cynicism slowly erodes away. Her voice and sense of humor are fantastic, and she’s a relatable, deeper protagonist than one would believe at first glance. She’s also biracial and both of her heritages play into the character and a little bit into the setting, and I’m loving this greater diversity in young adult fiction.
There is romance but it’s secondary to Cam’s own inner journey and her relationships with her friends and family. The other characters are all wonderful supports to Campbell and feel well-developed. Asher, the love interest, has believable anxiety and is basically the safest, most dreamboat-worthy person in the book. Alicia and Perry aren’t typecast into miserable, sad family of cancer patient and are instead their own characters with their own plots outside of the cancer. Alicia teaches hula to the women in Maine and has a love interest back in Florida that she misses. Perry is a teenage girl who feels belittled by the attention that Cam gets.
There are a few plots that aren’t resolved and leave the reader with questions. While Asher is a likeable love interest and has his own issues, there isn’t much to him beyond that and the novel doesn’t develop their relationship much before another plot becomes more relevant. The climax is sped through almost too quickly, which leaves you emotionally weak and unprepared, but is also slightly realistic in that way. There are some inconsistences with the Disneyworld scenes and what really happens, but it’s easy to ignore those.
If you enjoy young adult fiction about teens with terminal diseases, settings that may or may not be magical, the power of hope, and are interested in a book that makes the term ‘ass whisperer’ endearing then pick up The Probability of Miracles and find out if you believe.
One thought on ““Matter Never Disappears”: The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder”
I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of TFIOS. I’ve never heard of this book, but you’re review has me anxious to check it out and compare the two. Thanks for the info!
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