The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.
Until Polina arrives.
She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.
She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live
Ivan is a child of the Chernobyl disaster . Born with severe physical deformities as well as a connective tissue disorder that makes his face sag, he isn’t the prettiest of things, but he is incredibly intelligent. He causes mischief among the staff and residence of the hospital but he is alone and isolated due to the fact that the rest of the “mutants” have the minds of small children. He has no peers to talk to, the staff, bar one nurse, hates him for reasons unknown. He doesn’t know who his parents are or when his birthday is. The only person that shows him any love or affection is Nurse Natalya and the only joy he has is reading. His life is one boring routine, being invisible and making it his business to know what is going on with all the staff. He is proficient in knowing everything that happens in the hospital by being there but unseen. He susses out all of his fellow mutants and in some cases develops soft spots for some.
He writes his life story after the arrival of Polina, a 15 year old orphan who has found out recently that she has leukaemia. After getting hold of her diary he thought it would only be fair to let her in on his life story. They make slow going of becoming friends. Polina opens Ivan’s world in ways he never thought possible. She is intelligent, shares his love of reading, making mischief and breaks through the loneliness that has surrounded him since his birth. She brings him outside, something he never wanted to explore. She shows him life, she makes him laugh for the first time in his life and in a round about way, love. They develop a strong bond but one that is doomed.
This isn’t a YA book, even though it’s told through the eyes of Ivan, this is an adult book. It has many heartbreaking moments mixed with realistic themes and has a sharp edge to the harshness of it all. The settings seem too real to be fiction but as we know that because of the setting and the time frame this story could be based on reality. I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually a fictional book. It’s about struggle to find some sort of happiness in the bleakest of situations and settings. Ivan was an asshole but when Polina came into his life he changes. Not only does she save him, he in turn, saves her.
The ending is heartbreaking on so many levels, I did cry a bit at the end. It left me very emotional and I felt incredibly bad for Ivan but it also had some hope for him at the end, to find peace and whatever joy he could. This is a raw and harsh book, the narrative was incredibly well done. There are some funny bits and black humour in it, you laugh in parts you know you shouldn’t but you can’t help it. This is one that will stay with you.
ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review