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Debut memoir chronicles battle with cancer, medical errors — and a love story

Kirkus Reviews
"Wait, It Gets Worse: Love, Death, and My Transformation From Control Freak to Human" by Lydia Slaby

Lydia Slaby's debut memoir, "Wait, It Gets Worse," explores love, cancer, and learning to live in the moment.

On June 29, 2012, Slaby and her husband, Michael, were preparing to finish work (she at a Chicago law firm, he with the Barack Obama re-election campaign) before boarding a plane for New York to attend a friend’s wedding. But first she had to see her doctor. She had been suffering from shortness of breath. Her physician detected a heart irregularity and insisted she see a cardiologist immediately. What followed became a nightmare medical saga. X-rays and CT scans revealed a grapefruit-size tumor pressing down on her heart: “My tumor was pushing on my heart, which reacted to protect itself by filling the sac where it lives with fluid. There was so much fluid, however, that my heart was under attack from its own protection.” The author was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemotherapy, the prescribed treatment, first involved discussions of how to preserve her fertility. She was only 33 years old. While the tumor was not removed surgically, chemotherapy successfully shrank it. And then a December 2012 follow-up PET scan showed her thymus lighting up. It could be nothing — the tumor, now one-quarter of its original size, may have wound around her thymus. Or it could be something dire. The ensuing surgery involved cracking open her chest. Then a medical error almost caused her death. Slaby’s narrative is about much more than cancer. Although the unusual complexity of the sequential medical emergencies the author endured, which she details in lucid, graphic prose, threatens to overwhelm the memoir, she also presents a tender love story. Slaby deftly intersperses portions that recall the shifting up-and-down dynamics of her long relationship with Michael. These sections, despite the periods of great turmoil, offer readers respite from the grueling medical drama. As she worked toward physical, psychological and emotional recovery, the author meticulously documents how difficult it was for her, a self-described “control freak,” to let go of the past and find “grace and kindness inside the unexpected.”

An engrossing, informative, and sometimes-frightening medical account that ends on an inspirational high note.

(Slaby will speak and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Friday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information:

Climate change dystopia

When the institutions you trust fail you, what will you do — and how will you handle the consequences?

Two girls grapple with these questions in "Wilder Girls," Rory Power's gritty, lush debut chronicling psychological and environmental tipping points at a boarding school for girls on a remote island in the near future. Sixteen-year-old scholarship student Hetty was one of the first to show signs of the Tox. Over the last 18 months, she’s watched it ravage her classmates and teachers as they wait, quarantined within school grounds, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and deliver a cure. The Tox affects everyone differently: Hetty’s right eye sealed itself shut; her best friend, Byatt, grew a second, exterior spine; Reese has a sharp, silver-scaled left hand and glowing hair. Not everyone adapts to the Tox’s cyclical flare-ups — a girl brought to the infirmary rarely returns. The two remaining staff maintain tenuous order, but a flare-up that lands Byatt in the infirmary — with Hetty determined to protect her — quickly escalates into events that irrevocably shape the fates of everyone left on the island. Power deftly weaves a chilling narrative that disrupts readers' expectations through an expertly crafted, slow-burn reveal of the deadly consequences of climate change.

Part survival thriller, part post-apocalyptic romance and part ecocritical feminist manifesto, this is a staggering gut punch of a book.

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