Honey Blood (Kirsty Everett, HarperCollins)
I learned a lot about cancer treatment from Kirsty Everett’s memoir Honey Blood: that chemotherapy can make you very sensitive to smells, that jellybeans are helpful for the taste of the toxins as they enter your bloodstream, and that a 10-year-old can be heartbreakingly brave. Two rounds of childhood leukaemia bent Everett’s early life gapingly awry around her dire illness. She dealt with disrupted schooling, strained family relationships and adjusting to an unreliable and unwell body. There is a warm nostalgia to Honey Blood, like when Everett touches on the sensual delight of a rainbow Paddle Pop or the smell of pool chlorine. There are even some sweetly funny moments that contrast sharply with descriptions of a clumsy lumbar puncture and the careless cruelty of the schoolyard. These painful events are as much a part of Everett’s sunny childhood as the Vegemite sandwiches and Chinese takeaway she so fondly writes about. She later tells of an autobiography workshop with Patti Miller, in which she was the youngest participant; the first memorable passages of Honey Blood are the result. Everett is a born writer, her compelling story shot through with the extraordinary sensitivities of childhood. Honey Blood is never maudlin or self-pitying—even though parts of the book made me wince with sympathy—because Everett’s story shines with strength.
Anne Barnetson is a bookseller and illustrator based in Perth.