Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: Do They Wear High Heels In Heaven? by Erica Orloff

Do They Wear High Heels In Heaven? - Erica Orloff

Lily Waters is a successful newspaper columnist, who has a teenage daughter and a young son and can’t cook to save herself. Michael Angelo (yes that’s his real name), works in the English Department at Hudson University, loves baseball and is blatantly homosexual. Yet despite their differences, the two are the best of friends, and have been ever since their early twenties (Lily almost burning down the apartment building they both lived in, while trying to cook a chicken, formed the catalyst of their friendship). Since then, they’ve experienced many things together- numerous boyfriends, marriage, childbirth, divorce, AIDS scares, drunken nights and all the hair and fashion challenges of the 80’s.
But now they’re about to face a new, more serious challenge.
After Lily’s editor sends her to get a mammogram so she can write a column for Breast Cancer Awareness month, she is horrified to find out that she requires a biopsy for a spot on her right breast. Before long, Lily is attending chemotherapy sessions and has put her life on hold indefinitely. While Michael lends as much support as he can, he can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the realisation that his best friend is slowly dying.
But Lily is determined to win her battle against cancer, and continues to wear her high heels and lipstick as she fights for her life.

What I gained from reading this book:
This book is a reminder of just how fragile human lives really are (as if we needed more proof of that!) At the beginning of the novel, Lily is a vibrant woman with a smart-aleck attitude and a strong personality, who gives as good as she gets and doesn’t let anybody push her around.
But as the reader gets further into the story, and the cancer grows, we begin to see Lily’s fighting spirit start to wan. This is one opponent that Lily is unable to use her wit against, and although she has Michael, her children and a few other close friends to support her in her battle, Lily’s vivacious life is reduced to a fragment of what it once was.
What makes this novel so heartbreaking is how realistic it is.
So many good people, who live full and stimulating lives, are struck down by this terrible illness and succumb before they get the chance to experience old age.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and what makes it worse is that these are events that are occurring in somebody’s life right now, not just in Lily’s.

The author also tackles another issue in this novel that is just as life changing as facing an unexpected illness- dealing with the after-effects of bullying and abandonment. Michael has faced severe prejudice from people close to him because of his sexual orientation, and only through excerpts of the ‘fiction’ he is writing, are readers allowed to see the horrors that he has gone through. As a young man, Michael faced unspeakable abuse from his best friend and his baseball team, and was rejected and disowned by his father. By the time Michael meets Lily, he has grown into an attractive and somewhat slutty guy who juggles boyfriends and embarks on one-night stands for thrills. Yet he still harbours deep insecurities following his traumatic history, and finds himself dredging up painful memories as he attempts to finish his novel.
Even though he matures to become a father figure to Lily’s children, he finds that his past continues to haunt him. This proves that no matter how much people try to move on in their lives, there will always be reminders of a past experience, which time cannot always heal.

Despite the depressing nature of the story- in the form of Lily’s cancer and Michael’s prejudice-filled life- there are still many uplifting moments. Lily’s sharp and witty exchanges with Joe, the editor of the newspaper she writes a column for, are very amusing. They actually remind me of the old-school grumpy newspaper editors that you see in movies like Spiderman and Superman.
Besides that, Lily and Michael’s friendship is something truly special and they do for each other what many people would not do even for a blood relative. Their love and support for each other is unsurmountable and that makes their relationship a big positive in my eyes.

I wasn’t that impressed with the ending of the book. If Michael’s chapter had been the final one, I think the novel would have had a better, open finish.
But I suppose for some people, hearing Lily’s voice at the end is more comforting, because it means that there is hope after all for people who are looking for peace after cancer.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Genre: Family/ Relationships

Recommended for: Anybody who knows someone strong who is facing cancer, and would like to see how a fictional character- and her family and friends- deal with the illness.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven?

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