Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review - Notes Left Behind by Brooke and Keith Desserich


Title: Notes Left Behind
Author: Brooke and Keith Desserich
Year: 2009
Page: 272
Genre: Non-fiction - Memoir

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Maybe
Tearjerker? Yes (especially towards the end of the book)
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
A Cincinnati couple bravely and lovingly recorded the last months of their six-year-old daughter's life after she was handed the devastating prognosis of terminal brain cancer. A trip to the doctor's office to treat Elena's strep throat resulted in an MRI that revealed a large tumor lodged within the walls of Elena's brain stem—in the worst place with one of the worst tumors out there. The kindergartener, who also had a younger sister, Grace, was given three to six months to live. A miracle was what the family hoped for, traveling to Memphis for six weeks of an experimental treatment involving intensive radiation, chemotherapy and tests; already Elena's speech, mobility and ability to eat had been affected, symptoms of the tumor's progression that would recede and recur over the next several months. The parents kept this diary from November 29, the beginning of their daughter's treatment, until her death August 11, Day 256, written in alternating POVs (mostly Keith's; Brooke's is rendered in italics), even recording some of Elena's own musings, such as that all she wanted was to be normal. The parents remained resolute in her treatment, even upbeat despite the anger Keith felt at the unfairness of this disease. Instead of planning their daughter's future, the Desseriches sadly found themselves counting [her] days. This heartbreakingly forthright journal helped the authors push back that second-worst day—when the memory of their daughter would be forgotten.

First Sentence:
It began early.

Why did I pick this book?
Saw it on the library's new book list, read the reviews on amazon which were almost all 4 and 5 stars.

My thoughts:
  • I thought originally (from the title) that the book was a journal of 6 year old Elena, but it was actually her parents' (mostly dad's) journal instaed (I think it may have been a blog). The parents wanted to write it so their younger daughter Gracie won't forget about Elena

  • It is very difficult to rate this book - I mean, this is definitely a very, very sad story and yes, I cried my eyes out especially towards the end of the book (I found the August 4 entry about the dance was the most heart-wrenching), but at the same time, it is a story I'd had read of before - articles about other similarly brave kids who courageously fought their terrible diseases - so the lessons learned, "treasure your time with your kids", "spend time with your family" etc isn't really new, but still a good reminder

  • The beginning of the book was a bit flat (I'd have been more scared and lost!), and sometimes the content got a bit repetitive - but I suppose, since this was a journal/blog, it was understandable that some of their feelings/thoughts kept recurring. It was probably not something that noticeable if you just read an entry a day (i.e. if you follow their blog), but I pretty much read the book in 2 settings (before I slept, and after I woke up the next day) so the repetitiveness was more pronounced. I also have to remember that the parents aren't professional writers, but you do get to see their honesty

  • I think what got to me more was the pictures rather than the text that they included in the book. Elena was an adorable girl but you could see how the medication/steroid and cancer took a toll on her and it was very devastating to see. The photos were black and white only, and not the best quality since they were a bit grainy, but I suppose it would have been expansive to include color glossy pictures in books. Though I appreciate that they had the pictures through out the books, rather than having them all in the centerfold as most books do - so you really do see the progression as you read the text

  • While this was not the most inspirational book I'd read (to me), I was still glad I read it. Most importantly though, I hope the younger daughter, Gracie, would read it one day and understood the important role she had played in her sister's life, and why her parents had to neglect her a little sometimes to take care of Elena. Since I have 2 younger sisters, I think the sisterly-love described in the book was quite touching, especially when they were both so young


I learned more about my daughter in eighteen days than I'd learned about her in five years, eleven months and twenty-six days. (p34)

For despair forces you to live in the present while your mind races to the future. (p95)

"Never look at a day and think it is a bad day, because this may be better than tomorrow, so just thank God that you have the day at all." (p177)

Since we're all book lovers here, and so was Elena, I thought it was interesting to read about story time with her parents before bed:

To read a book with Elena is a methodical journey. First, you must do away with the book jacket if it has one. After all, in order to experience the majesty that is bedtime reading you must not only view the pages but feel the cover as well. But be careful to place the jacket back on the shelf -- you will need to re-cover it as soon as you finish the book. Next, always remember to mention the author's name, present the cover to the audience and then prompt them to tell you what they think the book is about. never mind that the audience may only be Mom, Gracie and me. Third, open the book tot he first page and review the copyright and the illustrator if different than the author. Now, we must pause at the copyright and discuss Elena's age at the point of original publication. Finally, you are ready to read, but make sure to discuss the quality of the illustrations and how the author conveys movement with the pictures. Faraway pictures that become close-ups indicate that the subject is traveling. It is also important to understand the illustrator's use of color. Bright colors convey happy feelings, while dark colors convey sadness. Once you have made your way through the book, close it, set it on your lap and ask the audience to "Discuss the book" with you. Then and only then have you truly enjoyed your bedtime reading. Now you know why it also takes us an hour or more to read three children's books every night. (p100-101)


You may also like these books I'd read:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow

Josie's Story: A Mother's Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe by Sorrel King

Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
I'll link your review here if you wish!

100+ Reading
Memorable Memoir


  1. Sounds like a tough book to read. Thanks for your review! I especially enjoyed their storytime ritual.

  2. @Alexia561 - definitely a difficult topic, but I guess at least I know what I was getting myself into beforehand! After reading their storytime ritual, I couldn't help but think that Elena would've made a great book blogger with her details to attention!