Natural Killer by Harriet Alida Lye (288 pages)
In Natural Killer, we learn about a form of leukemia that had a survival time (from diagnosis) of just 58 days.
Can you imagine being diagnosed with a condition so rare and aggressive that there are no known survivors? That is the situation that Harriet, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from suburban Toronto, found herself in when, in 2002, a nasty cold that would not subside morphed into a range of associated conditions. Nine weeks later, Harriet underwent a series of blood tests – the outcome of which resulted in her being admitted to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, on Victoria Day long weekend. After many tests and examinations, Harriet’s condition was eventually confirmed as Natural Killer, an aggressive form of leukemia.
Medical reports, doctors and nurses and observations, and psychological assessments punctuate the book, contributing to Harriet’s story. Pinpointing key milestones in her diagnosis, they support the honest and harrowing replay of her teenage life. Her days in Sick Kids were punctuated with intrusion and examinations. She recounts her reaction to the situation in a truly remarkable way; with honesty and modesty, she shares her innermost thoughts, interwoven brilliantly with her parents’ perspective to create a moving story emphasizing the fragility of life.
An extraordinary story of the fragility and miracle of the human body; one day intent on ending its existence and the next creating a beautiful new life.
I was drawn to the book by one single sentence written by Harriet, “I need people to know that I exist, that their experiment worked, that by some combination of luck and science, I am alive.”
I was intrigued. What was this illness, this Natural Killer, of which I had never heard? I wondered how you would react to hearing such news and how you could remain optimistic about a positive future and outcome when the odds are strongly stacked against you.
Despite the subject matter, this is not a book of doom and gloom that leaves you grateful not to be Harriet. Nor does it leave you with a sense of sadness for her, as her life is laid bare in front of you. It is quite the opposite. It is a profoundly moving story, told with honesty and frankness of what it is like to be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and survive it. Yes, it is at times heartbreaking, but at the same time, it is a read filled with hope and inspiration. Harriet survives, and her story of resilience and optimism is both astounding and uplifting.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars
I don’t think I have ever read a more moving book. Harriet’s reflection on her journey creates a startling realization of life’s fragility and how it can change on a dime. From happy-go-lucky schoolgirl to being handed a life sentence and beating the odds to not only surviving but thriving… Truly inspiring.
If you read the book, please do let me know what you think. What part inspired you? What part brought you to tears?
If you enjoyed it, why not check out Harriet’s debut novel, The Honey Farm? For more must-read books, check out our Brookstore.
With 30 years of general management experience in the global insurance industry and having lived in 4 countries, Jacqui now spends her time between London and New York where she continues to pursue her passion for writing, food, books and travel.
A Reiki practitioner, yogi and huge animal advocate, her home isn’t complete without a furbaby or three. In addition to being a BooknBrunch contributor, she writes for industry publications.
Favourite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Favourite brunch dish: avocado toast with tomato and chilli