4 out of 4 stars
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Cancer sucks. When it comes down to it, that's my two cents. Hey, a cent a word isn't too bad! Never have I seen that sentiment so eloquently in writing as in Tina Martel's Not in the Pink, an artistic, poetic nonfiction art collection/autobiography. She refers to it as a "graphic narrative", I call it the most darkly humorous, real look at going through cancer that I've ever seen.
Tina is an artist. She has a Master of Fine Arts and has taught "fine arts herself in the post secondary system for the last 15 years" according to her Amazon biography. All of this is crystal clear in the artwork throughout Not in the Pink; the book is essentially both a coffee table book of unique artwork and her honest, insightful thoughts and experiences throughout the diagnosis of her breast cancer, multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and even menopause almost immediately after to boot!
The story itself is told in several chapters, beginning with her diagnosis. Tina is a very honest, brave woman, laying out her thoughts and feelings as purely as possible. She doesn't sugarcoat things, she says it like it is. This is where the title - Not in the Pink - comes from: while Tina does undergo alternative treatments in addition to conventional treatments, she isn't a fan of the idea of positive thinking as a magical cure for cancer. In fact, one of the ridiculous things people say to those with cancer implies that it's their own fault, and maybe if they were just a bit more positive or ate better or went outside more/less etc. they wouldn't have cancer at all. She even has a list of some of the ridiculous things people have said at the end of the book!
Once Tina learns she has cancer she has to deal with the humongous ripples throughout her life. She feels like a let down to her students when she can't teach, she feels like a burden when her workplace doesn't pay anywhere near enough for her medical bills and she deals with feeling less like a woman with multiple breast surgeries and the loss of her hair (including eyelashes and eyebrows). She gives excellent details about why she doesn't like the idea of wearing a wig and how awful most folks must have it that can't afford such expensive treatments and can't have a huge art sale like her.
While the book is well written and the art perfectly frames the words upon its pages, what really makes Not in the Pink shine is Tina's writing. She has an incredible sense of humor about such dark topics, and I felt like I could pull an amazing quote from nearly any page. The writing is as artistic as the art, with the words often angled, bold, enlarged, skewed or even in waves across the pages. These effects are never forced; every single one of them went perfectly with the feel of the page. Tina's feeling like she wants to scream something at a hospital employee who just won't listen? Boom, have some big, bold font. She's asking "why me?" of her doctor and he says it's "a crap shoot"? Have some dice scattered across the page with the words "WHY ME?" stylized like a ransom note. She feels out of sorts, as if she's supposed to stay in line and be a "good patient" who doesn't ask questions? Have wavy, chaotic font to illustrate it. Where some books create a world that's so strong it's a character of its own, Tina has created a book where the pages themselves are their own unique characters. If Alice in Wonderland had a special spinoff where Alice had cancer, this is exactly what it would look like, except this is real.
One of the things Tina says in passing (as if I were having a conversation with her instead of just reading her words) is that with her bald head she can't just wear punk gear in her 50s. However, as I read about Tina's defiance (refusing to check a box saying she has anxiety and not taking pills that almost guarantee awful side effects, for example), I always pictured her as a member of an 80s punk band that's grown up.
I honestly have no negative words for Not in the Pink, and I'm far from the only one. The book currently has 25 Amazon reviews, and every single one of them is a perfect 5-star review. At least two are even verified purchases from top 100 reviewers! I flew through these pages and enjoyed every one of them, so it's incredibly easy to give the book 4 out of 4 stars. If you enjoy dark humor, insights into cancer, nonfiction work, art or poetry, give the book a shot. It may not be an actual poetry book, but the words flow so expertly that it's more poetic than many actual poetry collections I've read.
Not in the Pink
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