>When seven-year-old Alesia Shute suffers sudden abdominal pain and bleeding, her mother thinks that Alesia has started her period early and takes her to a doctor to see whether anything is wrong. The answer is a resounding “yes.” Alesia has cancer of the large intestine and colon. Rare in a person so young and extremely serious, this illness will have drastic effects on Alesia’s life. Through numerous surgeries, a colostomy bag, and endless complications, she perseveres, trying to remain positive and hopeful. Now a happy, successful adult, Shute has written Everything’s Okay: My Journey Surviving Childhood Cancer to encourage and inspire others who face life-altering health issues.
Everything’s Okay would be a tough book to get through if you didn’t start with the knowledge that everything will, indeed, be okay. The introduction and note at the book’s beginning make it clear that the author is now living the good life. It’s still wrenching to see young Alesia struggle through such physical trauma, but it’s uplifting, too. The book is a reminder that even from impossibly low lows, a person’s life can get better.
The story is also wonderfully humanizing. Like John Green’s wildly popular The Fault in Our Stars, this book focuses not so much on the cancer as the person. We see how Alesia’s illness affects her life even as she struggles to do “normal” things like attending summer camp and taking a road trip with her best friend. Complications and surgeries leave her stuck in the hospital at intervals throughout her childhood and teenage years, but in between, she’s entering her misbehaving dog in an obedience contest and going on dates. It’s obvious that surviving cancer is not the only thing on young Alesia’s to-do list.
With its unflinching attention to detail, this story takes childhood cancer from a vague horror to a specific one. It could be a comfort to those who suffer from similar health problems to know about the terrible things that Alesia went through in the context that she is now thriving. Alesia’s experiences may not mirror those of a child who has the same cancers because technologies and procedures have changed, but her story will still show readers that having to use a colostomy bag is not the end of the world.
The artwork features bold black lines colored with soft grayscale washes. Scenes are clear and the characters are easily differentiated from one another. The panels are text-heavy with many text boxes full of narration, but the story moves along appropriately. There are few action sequences but lots of high emotional drama, and the art expresses this well. A fun section at the end of the book juxtaposes drawings of the characters with photos of the people in real life, and the resemblances are impressive!
The book contains no violence and no visual sexual content. It frankly discusses how Alesia’s physical condition affected her romantic relationships, including her nervousness about having sex for the first time, but things don’t get any more graphic than that.
The present-day Alesia Shute is a noticeable force in the book. Besides her note in the introduction, she speaks directly to readers at the beginning and end of the illustrated portion of the book. She includes a brief aside about her belief in a higher power and her conviction that things happen for a reason. Not everyone will agree with her assessment that her cancer was “a blessing” that taught her to appreciate all she had in life, but this is a short and generally inoffensive passage.
Shute and her husband have donated nearly one million dollars to charity over the years, and all proceeds from the sales of this book go to support the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia—so you can feel as good about purchasing Everything’s Okay as you would reading and recommending this hopeful memoir.
Everything’s Okay: My Journey Survivng Childhood Cancer
by Alesia Shute and Nadja Baer
Art by Nathan Lueth
Round Table Comics, 2011