Sometimes a book will rest in your palm, and you know you've found a kindred spirit. That happened to me recently when Andrea Cheng's Brushing Mom's Hair crossed my path.
This special work teeters between a novel in poems and a verse novel. Each entry is titled, and the majority could stand alone as individual poems. Yet, united they tell a beautiful story about Ann, coping with her mother's recent breast cancer, mastectomy, and treatments. It is through Ann's art and dance that she finds moments of peace and control. The reader joins her as she moves through worry, embarrassment, a diminished appetite, the waiting, and finally joy.
Andrea Cheng's attention to detail brings rich life to the collection: beans, a fluorescent smiley face, warm bricks, and striped leg warmers. Each grounds the poems and makes tangible connections to the reader. Andrea bravely relays the truth of the breast cancer experience.
Nicole Wong has contributed delicate pen and ink and wash drawings and spot illustrations to every page. The line mimics the tenuous state of the characters at times and then the rising hope at other moments. There's a beautiful dance between line, text, and negative space on each spread. It is a welcome aid to the reader working through the difficult subject matter.
Personally, I feel close to this work as it seems to dance between my own novels Loose Threads and On Pointe.
Brushing Mom's Hair is accessible to tweens, teens and adults. Share it with your loved one upon its release in September. Give it to another this October for Breast Cancer Month.
Brushing Mom's Hair
by Andrea Cheng
illustrated by Nicole Wong
Wordsong, September, 2009