Friday 29 July 2016

The Girl With Nine Wigs by Sophie van der Stap

Sophie is 21 when she is diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer. A striking, fun-loving student, she finds her world reduced overnight to the sterile confines of a hospital. But within these walls Sophie discovers a whole new world of gossiping nurses and sexy doctors, and of hair loss, and eyebrow pencils.
As Sophie faces the challenges of chemotherapy, wigs - now a crucial part of her life - become a powerful form of self-expression.  Each of her nine wigs makes her feel stronger and gives her a distinct personality, and that is why each has its own name: Stella, Sue, Daisy, Blondie, Platina, Uma, Pam, Lydia and Bebe.  There's a bit of Sophie in all of them, and they reveal as much as they hide.  Sophie is determined to be much more than a cancer patient. With refreshing honesty and a keen eye for the absurd, Sophie van der Stap's The Girl With Nine Wigs will make you smile when you least expect it. 

The Girl With Nine Wigs by Sophie van der Stap was published by Summersdale on 21 October 2015.

"It's Saturday and everything is different. No, I didn't go to the market this morning and I didn't have my usual coffee on Westerstraat. And no, I wasn't getting ready for a new semester at college. Next Monday, January 31st, I have to admit myself at the hospital for my first chemotherapy session. For the next two months, I'm expected each week for a fresh shot of vincristine, etoposide, ifosfamide and loads more exciting abracadabra."

Sophie van der Stap was just twenty-one years old when she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. She was an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. She'd had some sorrow, as her mother had recently battled cancer herself, but on the whole, Sophie's life was bright and fun.

Boyfriends, parties, college; Sophie embraced all of it, with joy. Her diagnosis was shocking, her treatment was severe and the impact on her family dynamics were unexpected. Despite the many many low points, she has an irresistible sense of fun and mischief that stops this book from falling into the 'misery memoir' category, her bright voice and character shines through her writing.

Stella, Sue, Daisy, Blondie, Platina, Uma, Pam, Lydia and Bebe; these are the characters that help her to cope with the hospital appointments, with the missed parties and the falling behind with college work. Not people, but the nine very different wigs that she buys, and which she christens and which both expose and hide the inner turmoil.

Sophie remains determined throughout her treatment, each of the wigs transform her into a different personality, but she's not faking it, she's exposing characteristics that she probably hid previously, but allows them to come to the front when she wears the wig that she feels suits those feelings best.

The Girl With Nine Wigs was written twelve years ago and has only recently been translated into English. It's an inspirational read that will give hope to any patient in a similar situations and indeed, that was Sophie's intention:

"All I have to do is show people that you can live with cancer, that you can still laugh and enjoy yourself. That I still shop, dress up and go on dates.That those things are still just as much fun as they were before I got cancer, maybe even more so.  That life with cancer doesn't have to be just an emaciated body, pain and endless vomiting. And that wigs can be fun, and not just for me, but for anyone with cancer."

Sophie has certainly done that in The Girl With Nine Wigs. It's a wise and funny story, yet Sophie's darkest days and fears are not hidden at all. She writes with energy and her personality shines through on every page.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy of The Girl With Nine Wigs for review.

Sophie van der Stap is a Dutch author.
Since recovering from cancer, she has written journalism and fiction.
She currently lives in Paris.

Sophie's TEDx Maastricht talk can be seen here:

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