Review: God is in the Pancakes
Fifteen-year-old Grace Manning is a candy striper in a nursing home, and Mr. Sands is the one patient who makes the job bearable. He keeps up with her sarcasm, teaches her to play poker . . . and one day cheerfully asks her to help him die. At first Grace says no way, but as Mr. Sands’s disease progresses, she’s not so sure. Grace tries to avoid the wrenching decision by praying for a miracle, stuffing herself with pancakes, and running away from all feelings, including the new ones she has for her best friend Eric. But Mr. Sands is getting worse, and she can’t avoid him forever.–From Goodreads
Camus said, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Do we have a right to die? Do people suffering from terminal illnesses have a right to end their suffering? If so, should they be able to enlist help in the form of an assisted suicide? Would you help someone end their life if you were asked?
I worked in a veterinary office very briefly and was required to help with euthanasia almost every day. I watched people choose to put down their beloved cats, dogs, guinea pigs…and when I was done trying not to cry on the job, I couldn’t help but wonder where or why we draw the line between putting suffering animals “to sleep” and assisting the suicides of chronically ill patients.
Robin Epstein’s fabulously titled God is in the Pancakes explores these questions through Grace, a candy-striper in an assisted living community, who befriends a patient suffering from ALS. Mr. Sands is a spirited, quirky elderly man, and though his disease isn’t taking away his spunk, it is slowly taking away his motor control. It will continue to do so until he is completely paralyzed and unable to even breathe for himself. Sands asks Grace to help him die on his own terms; he gives her the pills that he wants crushed up and baked into a cake and tells her that nobody would ever suspect her involvement, but Grace doesn’t know if she can go through with the plan.
Epstein’s book is spirited, thoughtful, provocative, and ultimately far more uplifting than you might suspect. Grace’s conversations with Sands and his wife are moving, but her life is also full of the normal teenage dilemmas, like her parents’ separation, her crush on her childhood best friend, and fights with her older sister. Grace has plenty on her plate, but when things get a little too tough, all it takes is a mixture of milk, flour, baking powder, and eggs to renew her spirits. As full of weighty philosophical decisions as this book is, it is its grounding in reality that makes it most profound. It is its normalcy that allows readers to envision themselves in Grace’s shoes and contemplate what choice they would make.
What would you do?