Dessert First by Dean Gloster is a perfect example of why I don’t read novels that feature cancer as their main theme. After I finally finished reading Dessert First, my tear ducts were sore from crying, and I honestly felt more depressed than I’ve felt in a long while.
The novel follows the life of Kat as she struggles to cope with the imminent death of her younger brother, Beep. Beep is suffering from cancer, and the doctors have exhausted every avenue possible to save him. They’ve put him through numerous chemo treatments, but his immune system just isn’t strong enough to fight off all the infections that plague his vulnerable body after the doctors have nuked all his cells. The only option left to save this twelve year old is to use Kat’s bone marrow. Throughout the novel, Kat and her family face hardships that most people with or without fatal diseases can relate to.
While the first paragraph of this review might give you the impression that this book holds nothing but sadness and gloom, I implore you to think otherwise. Dessert First, even though it was utterly depressing, was a good read. The author did an outstanding job of getting readers to understand and empathize with Kat and her family. I felt red hot anger when Kat got bullied at school because the popular girls were unhappy with her hanging out with her more popular best friend, Evan. Normally, I would read about teens getting bullied and it wouldn’t bother me, but this protagonist had so much on her plate to deal with that it was so upsetting to read about kids at her school picking on her because they felt like she was using her brother’s sickness as a way to cruise through school and gain Evan’s pity. I think the reason I cried a lot throughout the book was because Kat’s situation seemed to only be getting worse; there seemed to be few people around that she could depend on and grieve with, and it tore me apart to read about her dealing with all these issues on her own.
I felt such strong emotions towards this novel that I decided to stay up one night and finish it in one go so that I didn’t have to shed any more tears over Kat and the reality she had to live with. Even though it was easy to empathize with Kat, I couldn’t help but think that she wasn’t as sarcastic as the book wanted her to appear. She came off more cynical than anything else; she constantly downplayed painful situations with humor so that she didn’t have to express her emotions.
The premise of “eating dessert first before any meal” that the book is built upon is cute, but came across a little forced. While Beep is going through his trials, he makes Kat swear that she will always eat dessert first and not be like other grown-ups. I get that the author would give the book this title also because it perfectly sums up the message I think the author wanted to convey to readers which is the feeling of hopelessness that festers in most cancer kids. However, the characters use the phrase a little too often in the story and it seems to water down the message a bit.
Regardless, I think Dessert First is a beautiful story not only about overcoming hardships, but about how to endure them. While it is a real tear-jerker, it’s a story that might help motivate someone out there, and I encourage all youths (with cancer sibs or not) to read it.