Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

John Gunther took the title of Death Be Not Proud: A Memoir from a sonnet by British poet John Donne, from which he quotes at the beginning of the book: “Death be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” This poem is an appropriate introduction to Gunther’s account of his son’s illness and death, for the book focuses not on death itself but on the triumph of human valor against the ultimately overwhelming forces of fate. Gunther follows the poem with a foreword that paints a picture of Johnny before his illness, depicting him as a sensitive, likable young man with a wide range of interests and an IQ well above the genius level. By acquainting readers with Johnny as a person, Gunther prepares them to understand and appreciate the unfortunate events that he goes on to describe.

The memoir itself centers on the fourteen months from the discovery of the tumor until Johnny’s death. Gunther tells the story chronologically, though he frequently skips forward or backward in time to explain or illustrate a point. He depicts Johnny’s disease and treatment—including two major operations, X-ray therapy, nitrogen mustard injections, and a rigid diet—in detail. Throughout his illness, Johnny displayed poise and grace beyond his years. Although confined to his home and frequently hospitalized, Johnny insisted on continuing with his schoolwork through tutors and independent study. Amazingly, he was able...

(The entire section is 481 words.)