28/05/2008

Pandora's Box (by Giselle Green)

I've never come across Giselle Green before. I probably wouldn't have done so, but I was sent her first novel by The Bookbag for reviewing. I started it on Monday evening, thinking it would last me all week... and finished it a couple of hours ago. I was gripped within the first few chapters, and today could hardly put it down.

'Pandora's Box' is the story of Rachel and her daughter Shelley. Shelley is nearly fifteen, and is terminally ill. This has made her sometimes wise beyond her years, but she combines this maturity with being a normal moody teenager who likes dressing in black, and feels her mother is over-protective. She spends a lot of time at her computer, and she would love to have a boyfriend.

Rachel is tired, and stressed. She loves her daughter, but caring for her is exhausting, since Shelley is wheel-chair bound. Rachel divorced her husband Bill three years before the story starts, but he still intrudes in her life at times, usually disagreeing with her parenting style. And there's Danny, Shelley's younger brother, who seems to get ignored sometimes because of Shelley's many needs. Moreover, Rachel has given up a lot in her life, and carries around a large burden of guilty feelings.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints - Rachel's and Shelley's. Shelley saw her friend Miriam die a painful death with the same medical condition as she has. So, clear-headed, she decides she will take her own life on her fifteenth birthday. We know this right at the start of the novel, but nobody else does.

We also learn there are some mysteries in Rachel's past, which may be revealed in old diaries and photos that are stored in a box. It's perhaps slightly forced that Rachel's mother (who sent her the old box of bits and pieces) is called Pandora... and Rachel feels that opening up Pandora's box will bring yet more trouble to her life.

Rachel and Shelley both have to come to terms with themselves, to work through the past, and to see what, if anything, their futures might hold. There are some difficult ethical questions raised in the book - is euthanasia ever right? What about suicide in the case of someone who knows they will soon die an unpleasant death?

I could relate quite strongly to Rachel. Just letting my sons go when they leave home is hard enough; the thought of seeing a child die, or take their own life doesn't bear thinking about.

It could have been trite; it could have been over-emotive and cringeworthy. But it's neither. Giselle Green has managed the middle path very effectively. There is a lot of tension and a dramatic climax, where I had no idea what would actually happen until I read the words.

I am very glad I have read this book. It's powerful, emotive, and moving and I'm sure will stay in my mind for some time. Highly recommended.

My slightly longer review of 'Pandora's Box' can be found here at the Bookbag site.

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