This book reminded me of my first few weeks in India. How, you might ask, did the story of a nuclear power plant disaster in Vermont remind me of Tamil Nadu, India?
Let me explain. About a week after our study abroad group arrived in Tamil Nadu, the power started going off regularly every day: between 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Soon one of our Indian friends told us why: the “democratic” state of Tamil Nadu wanted to build a nuclear power plant, but the people voted it down. They reasoned, what if another tsunami comes through here like one did just a few years ago? (For those of you who aren’t up on your Indian geography, Tamil Nadu is one of the two states on the southernmost tip of India.) Then we’ll have to deal with a nuclear accident on top of everything else. But the “democratic” government wanted profits. So, this “democratic” government then decided to cut off the power regularly until the people decided to vote the other way. (Nice idea of democracy, huh?)
Anyway. Phoenix Rising is about one such accident. Nyle and her grandmother (Gran) are sheep farmers in Vermont, and they take in two refugees of the accident: Ezra Trent, a 15-year-old who is very sick with radiation poisoning, and his mom, Miriam. When Nyle first finds out her Gran has taken in these two strangers, she’s adamant that she’ll have nothing to do with them. As if taking in a radiation-sick boy weren’t enough, Gran has put them in what Nyle calls “the dying room” – the room where her mother died of cancer and her grandfather died, too. This assures Nyle that Ezra certainly will die.
Gran talks her into interacting with Ezra and Miriam: “I know you’d rather not get involved in this mess, Nyle. But sometimes you have to do things you’d rather not.”
“Well, I’m not making friends with a dead boy.”
“He’s not dead yet,” Gran said.
“He will be if he stays in that room.”
“Look, it’s good to be with people, Nyle, even if they aren’t going to be around for long. Especially if they’re not going to be around for long. Makes being here on this earth worthwhile.” (18-19)
It makes sense why Nyle wants to keep her distance – just about everyone she’s ever cared about has either died or left her. But her friend Muncie has a different approach: “We’re all dying, Nyle… Haven’t you figured that out yet? We all have to leave sometime.”
But Ezra starts getting better, and he asks Nyle a million questions about sheep farming, and even goes with her to do chores. A friendship grows despite Nyle’s initial aversion to it.
And so this story has a lot of self-wrestling, a lot of dealing with pain, a lot of figuring-self-out, and a lot of tenderness, and a lot of vulnerability. And I get that. Because I’ve had a lot of people leave in my life, too. And when that happens, you begin to wonder if it’s worth letting anyone in again. It’s funny how an experience so different than anything in my personal experience – a nuclear disaster – can tell the story of some things that are so exactly the same as things in my life.
I’d love to tell you more about the story, but – it would give things away.