Form and Content
Lois Lowry’s first novel, A Summer to Die, was inspired by her relationship with her older sister, Helen, who eventually died of cancer. The book is narrated by thirteen-year-old Meg Chalmers, an artist and budding photographer, and treats the events of a pivotal year in her life. During that year, Meg is forced to confront jealousy and guilt, death and grief, as she comes to terms with the loss of her sister. At the same time, she begins to discover her own self-worth by developing her talents and making new friends.
As the novel begins, Meg feels inadequate compared to her seemingly perfect fifteen-year-old sister, Molly, an attractive cheerleader for whom everything seems to come easily. When their father, an English professor, moves the family to a small farmhouse in the country, both girls are unhappy. Meg must give up her Saturday morning photography classes, and Molly must quit cheerleading. In addition, the two girls are forced to share a room for the first time, which creates further tension, provoking Molly to draw a line down the middle of their room.
In February, Meg finds some consolation in helping her father build a darkroom so that she can develop her own photographs. One day in March, after Molly and Meg have had another argument, Molly begins to feel very ill and is rushed to a hospital in Portland, Maine. When Molly returns home, she seems weak and depressed. When Molly is hospitalized again, Meg blames herself for telling their mother that her sister’s legs are covered with red spots. Eventually, Meg’s parents reveal that Molly has acute myelogenous leukemia. When Meg visits Molly in the hospital to tell her about the birth of their neighbors’ infant, she feels older than her sister, who is too weak to respond with more than a smile. Two weeks later, Molly dies, and Meg believes that things will never be the same again.
During Molly’s illness, Meg learns to appreciate her sister and grows both as an individual and as an artist. In part, this change is the...
(The entire section is 531 words.)