Blood Work: A Review by Adult Educator Leslee Larsen, December, 2019
I’m delighted to add another review of my YA novel, Blood Work, this one from adult educator Leslee Larsen, who captures the essence of the novel as a chance for what’s called transformative learning. As Leslee illustrates so well, ’Raig, the protagonist of Blood Work, her parents, her brother, and her close friend all have to adjust to the terrifying life jolt with which ’Raig’s illness confronts them, so they can transform their own capacities and even their world view. In transformative learning terms, this is learning through reflecting on personal experience. Here are Leslee’s words:
I think I was the first one to sign your book out at the Antigonish library. I read it non-stop for two days as I literally could not put it down. Having worked in women’s health care for the past decade, there are so many reasons why I loved the authenticity of this book. I just finished writing up my research project for my masters in adult education which focused on self-directed learning for women of childbearing age, and I saw many parallels to my own work in your writing.
I could see examples of a disorienting dilemma and subsequent perspective shift for each of the characters. Each member of the family, as well as the family unit as a whole, had to face their own disorienting dilemmas. Each moved me, and was portrayed honestly and — from my health care perspective — so accurately. The emotions at times like these are raw and real, and we aren’t any of us perfect in how we handle them. We simply do the best we can in any given situation.
There were many moments in the story that brought me to tears, but in terms of the disorienting dilemma it is the story of her younger brother, Ewan, that I am so grateful you included. How ’Raig’s medical crisis affects him is crucial. The particular moment when he tells ’Raig he made supper for their parents still makes me tear up. As the mother of two sons I think he was portrayed perfectly at this awkward age of a young man’s development. This represented a shift for Ewan from his own dilemma to a new way of seeing himself in the family and the ways in which he could be helpful.
From a feminist perspective, a surprising finding from my research with women related to their own self-directed learning in health care was that the care provider is often not seen as the primary source of information. They become secondary in a process that involves seeking information from a wide variety of sources, then bringing it to their care provider to fact-check and validate what they have learned. I was amazed at how important it was for my research participants to speak to others with the same condition, and then talk about what was happening with family and friends. A very disorienting dilemma would occur when this process was somehow blocked, which was often the impetus to change how they self-directed their learning.
We see many great examples of this in your book. The brutal reality of a teenage woman facing so many changes to her body, her need for autonomy and voice, as well as her feelings of power or powerlessness, are so beautifully dealt with. Every moment is believable. And even in ’Raig’s acute and devastating situation, she often decides to learn from outside sources before getting confirmation and support from her doctor or her family.
As a care provider, this book was a great reminder to see things through the patient’s eyes. What may seem simple to us can become so important when one is feeling lost, confused, and vulnerable. Examples like a pause to let the patient take in what has been said, a supportive touch, or even showing our own vulnerability, are all described so well. Thank you for this beautiful and much needed book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and hope there are more books yet to come!
A huge thanks for these lovely words, Leslee. And happily I can report that just this week I wrote the synopsis of a second YA novel, also drawing on my many years of service to young people with life-threatening illness. I think the inspiration came from reading your review!