YA Friday: The Probability of Miracles

Friday, April 27, 2012

Title: The Probability of Miracles
Author: Wendy Wunder
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher: Razorbill, 2011
Source: Library
Read for: fun

So, that isn't the cover I read, but I liked it much more. Hence, there it is.

The Probability of Miracles is the story of Campbell, a Polynesian dancer at Disney World who is slowly dying of neuroblastoma. At the beginning of her illness, she made the Flamingo List -- a list of stupid, teenager mistakes that she feels she will never have the chance to make. After passing out in a parking lot and realizing that she has even less time than she previously thought, she goes at the list with full force. However, her mother and sister, Peri, have other plans. They drag Cam to a small town in Maine called Promise -- a town reputed to have mystical healing powers. And while Cam doesn't find her disease disappearing, she does find herself living life beyond what she thought possible -- and completing her Flamingo List.

So, I have this thing for cancer books. I think it is because I want to work with kids who have cancer. So far I've only worked with really young kids, and most books tend to be about either adolescents or adults with cancer, so I couldn't tell you if the books I read hold true or are useful in helping me relate to people with cancer -- I guess I just read them because I hope that they'll help eventually. Anyway, The Probability of Miracles was very different from your typical Lurlene McDaniels tearjerker. While Cam's disease is initially the primary plot-driver in the novel (if she didn't have it, she wouldn't be going to Promise, which is where all the action takes place), it soon takes backstage to the life she begins living in Promise. This, to me, was a very cool concept. Despite the fact that she had this all-encompassing disease, there was more to her life. Even before Cam and her family take off to Maine, there are all these bizarre, vibrant fragments of her life -- her life at Disney World, her complicated feelings about her weight (chubby before cancer, now with a perfect (aka cachectic) figure), her (similarly afflicted) best friend Lily. Once she gets to Promise, her life becomes even quirkier -- a house falls into her lap, she starts working at an animal shelter, she has an awkward encounter with a French foreign exchange student, she meets a lot of hippies, she sees flamingoes. It is all framed by the cancer, because it brings her to where she is, but it goes beyond it, which I loved.

I also (mostly) loved Cam. She is full of painfully sharp witty/cynical observations. There were two I particularly enjoyed, because they could have been mocking me:

Only 7 percent of people on the planet sleep on their stomachs, and stomach sleepers are vain, gregarious, and overly sensitive. Also small-breasted, apparently, because that position couldn't be comfortable with big boobs.
Never thought of it that way, but it's true.
Cam secretly loathed the nerdy couples who honeymooned at Disney World. It was like they were too immature to realizae that they were actually 'grown-up married' and not just 'pretend married,' going on a pretened honeymoon to the pretend countries of Epcot. Cam always wondered what happened to them when they got home and had to face the marriage realities of joint bank accounts and layoffs and health insurance and taxes and the fact that she always left the kitchen cupboards open and he would never in his life think about cleaning a toilet.
My husband and I did in fact go on our honeymoon to Disney Land. And Cam, facing the realities works out okay, but it is true that I always leave the kitchen cupboards open. However, yesterday we reached an epic victory, because after almost two years of marriage my husband cleaned our toilet for the first time. It was awesome.

Anyway, you see what I mean. She is hilarious and cutting. I also had some moments of being extremely bothered by her, however. There are several "stupid teenager" moments, and while I realize that is the point of the Flamingo List, I think it is possible to have a good, fully lived life without doing stupid things. I also was frustrated with the love interest aspect. There are definitely amazing moments in the relationship, but it was also muddied up with some serious stupidity. I'm not asking for a fairy-tale story -- this book is obviously not going to fall into that stereotype with its heavy subject matter. However, at times my irritation with the characters surpassed the normal, "Isn't love frustrating?" experience of watching characters figuring out how to be together and morphed into, "This is like watching a train wreck."

However, the end of the book was basically perfect, which allows me to forgive many moments of frustration. It was also unique, snarky, and engrossing. I had too many moments of annoyance to give it a solid 4 stars, but it came pretty close.

3.75 stars

Warnings: Language, some sensuality, some drug use


  1. I'm about halfway through this one at the moment and have the same feelings as you about it so far. The part I agree with you most on: "I think it is possible to have a good, fully lived life without doing stupid things." I'm glad to hear it ends well, can't wait to finish it now. Thanks for the great review! :)

    1. Yay, I am glad I am not the only one. Sometimes I feel like people all say, "Just live a little," and I want to say, "I can live without doing irresponsible things! Really!" Hope you enjoy the end!

  2. I really enjoyed this review. (Hi! - I've been following your blog for a bit now, and felt it was time to comment:))

    I'm also a nurse, and maybe that's why I too "have this thing" for cancer books. I want to say I enjoy them, but 'enjoy' seems like the wrong word to use?? But even before I was a nurse, I seemed to have a thing for cancer books.

    Have you read John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars" yet? I don't see it listed under your reviews, so not sure if you've read it yet. I really, really liked it and would recommend it seeing as it falls under this topic.

    1. Yay, a fellow nurse!

      I know, enjoy doesn't seem quite right. I guess "drawn to them" works?

      I have read The Fault in Our Stars but I haven't reviewed it yet. I think it is my favorite cancer book I have read so far.


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