I am not sure how to review Always Smile Carley Allison‘s Secrets for Laughing, Loving and Living by Alice Kuipers ($18.99, KCP Loft). While sitting in front of the computer screen waiting for inspiration, my 10-year-old son asked me what the book was about. I told him it was about a Toronto teen who who died from a rare form of cancer – one in 3.5 billion odds – but who inspired people all over the world with her optimistic attitude.

“Well,” he responded, “just tell people how it made you feel.”

Fair enough.

I was working at a Toronto community newspaper when Carley’s story would have first appeared in the media, although I am not convinced I remember her story then. However, I obviously have heard about Carley at some point because I recognized her beautiful smiling face as soon as I received the book.

Carley was a 17-year-old elite-level skater who loved to sing and write songs. She was looking forward to everything her Grade 12 year would hold when she was diagnosed with clear cell sarcoma of the trachea. She underwent an emergency trachea surgery, several rounds of chemo, surgery to remove the tumour and radiation before being considered cured. Throughout it all, she treated cancer like she did everything else in her life – as a competition that she was going to win, displaying determination, optimism and kindness to everyone around her, while reminding friends and family and herself – to “always smile.” Eventually, the cancer returned, this time in both lungs, and she again was prepared to win the battle.

Going into the book, you know she isn’t in fact going to win, which made her story hard to read particularly as book progressed. I knew the ending and I didn’t like it.

The book was a mix of blog entries (Carley started to write a blog after her diagnosis), social media posts, text messages and memories from friends and family.

Kuipers, the author, said she added the occasional word or sentences to clarify Carley’s story, but what we read are her own words and thoughts:

“You will also experience the world through Carley’s eyes in scenes I have constructed from stories her family told me. At the moment of her diagnosis, a vibrant and dynamic – but ordinary – young women became extraordinary. Carley took the terrible thing that was happening to her and managed to keep her spirit and joy alive. She showed everyone around her how to live life to its fullest.”

A copy of this book was provided by KCP Loft for an honest review.
The opinions are my own.

I have interviewed Alice Kuipers about her book Polly Diamon. Read her Q&A here.