Why Didn’t Any of You Tell Me About Lurlene McDaniel?

I could've really used ‘Baby Alicia Is Dying’ when I was 12

Collage: Lurlene McDaniel/Lerner Books
literally dead

This weekend, a beloved friend (lets call her “Sarah” because that’s her name) and I were inspecting some of my many recent bruises. I’d been doing yoga and have never had a tender touch when it comes to pressing my fingertips against my own shins while halfway lifting; I fell off a stationary skateboard inside my own apartment trying to impress a man. These are both viable explanations for my contusions, but still, something wasn’t adding up. Sarah suggested it was leukemia. She said “Lurlene McDaniel” had taught her this much: when it comes to mysterious bruising, it’s always going to be leukemia.

I didn’t know who Lurlene McDaniel was. I assumed Lurlene McDaniel was some freak she went to middle school with. Sarah was shocked. We’re both readers, and Lurlene McDaniel, she told me, was one of the most famous authors of all time with regards to stories about children who have cancer, go blind, and/or are Amish.

Obviously, the first thing that caught my attention was the name Lurlene McDaniel, much to Sarah’s annoyance. Yes, her name is Lurlene, but that’s not even the freakiest part about her, she implored. She started listing Lurlene McDaniel’s many titles to me. Lurlene McDaniel wrote over seventy books, including:

Baby Alicia is Dying, about a baby who is born with AIDS

Six Months to Live, about a 13-year-old girl who won’t graduate middle school because, well, you know

If I Should Die Before I Wake, about a debutante named Deanne who doesn’t want to spend her summer on silly debutante activities like hanging out at the country club and flirting with the rich boys, preferring to spend time with the kids in the cancer wing at the local hospital

Mother Please Don’t Die, about yet another 13-year-old girl whose mother has a mysterious headache.

Sixteen and Dying, about an HIV-positive teen who gets one special wish from an anonymous benefactor

Telling Christina Goodbye, about a college-bound senior whose best friend dies in an incident involving a patch of black ice

I was scream-laughing. How had nobody besides Sarah, who is admittedly quite savvy, heard of Lurlene McDaniel? I tweeted about “Lurlene” “McDaniel,” still not quite believing she was real, and as it turned out, legions of you had heard about Lurlene McDaniel, even if you hadn’t thought of her in years.

Lurlene McDaniel, may have in fact, hurt plenty of you pretty badly.

Sure, this all checks out. I guess my only question is: Why did none of you tell me about Lurlene McDaniel?

Like all of you lunatics apparently, I too was a deeply unwell hypochondriac child who convinced myself I was dying at all times between 1997 and 2009. I had a headache for like 12 years straight. My parents didn’t quite know what to do with me when I became fixated on the death, dying, and being dead aspects of the three never-found Alcatraz prisoners who hand-fashioned dummies from found objects and positioned them in their cells to fool guards with while escaping across the bay after a family vacation to the former prison when I was seven. It’s not exactly a parenting choice I would’ve made, but it’s what happened. They sent me to child therapy and let me watch all the television and read all the Betty and Veronicas I wanted, but nothing helped soothe me to sleep.

I could have used Lurlene then. I needed to know that other beautiful debutante types like me had it worse and in fact, the children’s ward of my hometown hospital was probably chock full of children with only months to live. We all could have had each other, and now, a million years later, I’m just finding out in the form of a viral tweet that everyone else liked the feeling of being sad and alone.

I ordered a few of Lurlene’s books off eBay this weekend, but I fear it’s too late for me. Baby Alicia, notably, is already dead.