Author: Tyler Feder
Publish Date: April 2020
Publisher: Dial Books
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-0-525-55302-1
Author website: https://www.tylerfeder.com/
Guest Book Review by Lorraine Chun
Throughout the world, people have suffered tremendous losses during the Covid-19 pandemic. The book, Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder, may be something that people could relate to, especially if they experienced a loss of a close family member. Tyler Feder’s memoir is a beautiful, heartfelt graphic novel dedicated to her mom, and aptly describes the “trappings of cancer” (covering the spectrum from hearing the initial diagnosis and prognosis, to treatment and chemo side effects) and finally, the family fallout after a loved one dies.
Tyler, from her memoir, talks about her close relationship she had with her mom, Rhonda. She paints the picture of Rhonda as a talented and creative person who would create clever party invitations and birthday party themes, or to try convincing Tyler to go on thrill rides with her. Rhonda’s motto to her daughters was, “when Mommy’s around, NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN.” When Tyler, her two sisters and father learn of Rhonda’s diagnosis—Stage IV/ovarian cancer—the whole family is devasted; and Tyler’s illustrations bring you right into what Tyler and the whole family is feeling. The pity party begins as Tyler and her family journey through the various stages of grieving. During Rhonda’s cancer treatments and side effects, Tyler’s tries to display (false) optimism to keep her mom’s spirit up; while struggling with her own feelings and trying to go back to college and complete her coursework). Rhonda receives chemotherapy and Tyler illustrates the treatment process including the insertion of the chemo-port, side effects from chemo including hair loss, no appetite, and fatigue. You are walking along side with her as Tyler goes through the initial stages of grief. There is an illustration of the word, “Cancer” splattering one page (159) in different size fonts and colors which I thought, illustrates the roller coaster side of emotions when you hear that word, “Cancer.” At the bottom of this page, Tyler aptly writes, ‘it’s like a million mosquito bites, annoying and painful at the same time.”
Tyler’s mother dies while the family is at the mother’s bedside, and the pity party is in full swing. Tyler narrates the Jewish funeral process and what her family must go through (as she puts it, “the death circus”). There is one page that
As someone who lost an immediate family member and several extended family members to Covid last year, I was quietly sobbing on the train as I read this book. I had to stop and pick up the book every few days to try to finish the book. Every emotion—from laughing inappropriately at silly things someone said to the various stages of grief—was covered in this book. Tyler’s illustrations of her own stages of grief were spot on. The “Dos and Don’ts for dealing with a grieving person (page 110)” should be a cheat sheet that every grieving person hands out every time someone asks “so how are you doing?”
Though some say, “time heals,” Feder gives us a postscript of how her dad and sisters are doing after ten years of her mother death. This book covers the gamut of many levels of grieving, from hearing the diagnosis of the dreaded word of “cancer” to the patient’s and family’s experiences and feelings during the treatment process, death and the customs that families must go through after death, and an individual’s ongoing healing process afterwards.
Despite the subject matter, this book makes you cry and laugh at the same time. It is a realistic portrayal of how death affects a family and how everyone’s grieving and coping process constantly evolves. I wanted to reach into the book and hug Tyler Feder and tell her that everything will be okay. This book is also a love letter to Tyler’s mother and the love and emotions she felt for her mom was loud and clear through Tyler’s illustrations and words. I recommend this book.
Lorraine Chun is a medical librarian at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. Librarianship is her second career after spending many years in public health administration. New to the field of graphic medicine, she finds that graphic medicine is a vital teaching tool to students of medicine. It’s also fun and very creative!