Exit Through the Gift Shop by Maryam Master
This book sat on my desk for weeks before I finally opened it. I’ve lost both my parents at a young age to cancer, I’ve had cancer myself, and in my family, we have a girl a similar age to the protagonist in this novel. I really wondered if the content would all be a bit close to the bone. But once I finally opened the first page and started reading, I was hooked and I read it in one go until the end.
This is a novel for young adults (and those who are older). Anahita is dying of cancer at the age of 12.5, discovering just how absurd life can be, as she navigates her family life, treatments and school, with moments of heart-warming, life-affirming kindness, and acts of unbelievable cruelty. You would think Anahita has enough on her plate without have to endure the senseless bullying from pretty mean girl Alyssa, aka Queen Mean. Alyssa is one of the vilest teenage girls I’ve met on the written page, but she is also strangely believable.
There is so much that happens in this novel about love and loss, life and death, so I don’t want to do any spoilers. But I can say that we go through all Anahita’s ups and downs as she goes from despair to acceptance, and everything in between and back again. She enjoys her precious time with her family, she studies for exams because she likes the idea of short term goals she can achieve, and she undertakes to extract revenge on her nemesis Alyssa, until something completely unexpected happens.
Maryam Master has done a wonderful job of capturing not just the hard graft and fear about a terminal cancer diagnosis, but also the love and joy and crazy wonder about living and not giving up, even when facing death. I certainly was teary while reading this book, but there is also fabulous humour – and I’ve decided we all need a best friend like Anahita’s Al. He’s there for her unconditionally, but he also coaxes her to make the most of the time she has left. As Anahita exits through the gift shop, she discovers invaluable and endless gifts to appreciate ‘on the way out of this Life gig.’ Tim Tam slams with Dad, story time with Ekva, responding well to chemo, hanging out with Al, and Mama Love x 10000000000000.
The title is a lovely metaphor that resonates so well with the entire book. Exit Through the Gift Shop is an extraordinary novel, one that is moving and funny. For a book about a young girl facing death, it’s surprisingly life-affirming and full of wisdom. I needn’t have been nervous about reading it, after all!
Reviewer: Karen McMillan
Macmillan Publishers, RRP $19.99