Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon is a teenage love story set in a a hospice. It sounds like it would be depressing, but instead it is funny and touching and well written, without ever becoming sappy or melodramatic.
Richard is a 17 year-old boy dying of cancer in a hospice where everyone else is ancient, except for a lovely 15 year old girl named Sylvie, who also has cancer. As the only two teenagers in the place, they naturally gravitate towards each other and get into as much trouble as their frail bodies will allow.
You don’t get put into a hospice unless you have less than a month to live, so don’t expect the story to have a magic happy ending. However, it does show that even in the final days, no matter what their age, people are still alive. Somebody Up There Hates You does not use any cliche stock characters. All of the patients and staff in the hospice are portrayed as real people with the mixture of flaws, meanness, courage and fear that all of us have.
The title Somebody Up There Hates You Comes from a joke Richie likes to tell. It is obvious that he was a bit of a wise-ass kid even before he got cancer. He hates the way various Priests and Ministers are always barging into his room and trying to talk to him about God. After all, it is somewhat difficult to believe in a kind and loving Supreme Entity when you are a 17 year old who has known nothing but pain for most of your life.
Sylvie is a frail and dying girl who just a few years earlier was the most beautiful girl in school. She and Richie spend whatever time they can together playing pranks on the staff and having a very Romeo and Juliet type of relationship. You see Sylvie’s father wants her to have nothing to do with the cancer boy, and keeps thinking that somehow she will actually get better.
One of the most moving episodes in the book comes on Halloween when Richie’s wild uncle Phil comes to visit. Phil sneaks Richie out of the hospice and for a few hours Richie can actually pretend to be “normal”. Richie is in a wheelchair, has a blanket wrapped around himself and has a shaved head, but on Halloween night people just assume it is a costume. Richie is able to watch kids play and store owners give out candy, without anyone staring at him, or worse- avoiding looking at him.
A few days later crazy Uncle Phil sends Richie drawings of the people in the hospice. They are beautiful drawings in which Phil has portrayed the people as the should be instead of as they are in the hospice. The two old men dying down the hall, are shown as young and strong watching a football game together. Richie is portrayed as a King. Sylvie is shown as a beautiful young mother. It is a life she will never have except in the picture.
This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. Hollis Seamon herself has spent countless hours in hospitals caring for her own sick young son. Her real life experiences come through in the beauty and vitality of her writing.
A hospice is one of those places most of us simply pretend is not there. We ignore its presence and pray to God that we never have to go to one or visit anyone there. Somebody Up There Hates You shows us that beauty and love can still grow even on the most barren of soil. I am glad Hollis Seamon gave us a glimpse of what happens behind the close doors of the hospice.