About the Book

Title: Mother, Help Me Live (One Last Wish #3)
Published: 1992

Drinking Game Tally: 26 drinks
Featured Ailments: Leukemia, Adoption

Cover Story

I have to give these covers points for being accurate, if heinous. You can tell that Sarah and her Mom are related by their matching expressions of disdain, and her mom’s apartment really does have ugly carpeting. The attention to plot detail here is much greater than we see with most shitty YA covers.

Featured Ailments

Leukemia is a form of cancer that necessitates chemo and a bone marrow transplant for protagonist Sarah. It results in hair loss, exhaustion, and getting kicked off the cheerleading squad.

But the real killer in Mother, Help Me Live is adoption. I bet you didn’t know adoption was a disease, did you? I didn’t either, but they way Sarah reacted to finding out she is adopted is only appropriate for things like a really douchey ex-boyfriend informing you that he has given you herpes (the gift that keeps on giving!). Adoption is a serious illness that leads to being an insensitive asshole to everyone you know, especially your younger siblings who didn’t do anything wrong and definitely don’t deserve your bullshit. It’s also a deeply, deeply shameful affliction, and if you find that you are adopted, be sure to keep it a secret from everyone you know or they will hate you forever.

The So-Called Plot

Sarah is back in the hospital for a Leukemia relapse when she gets some terrible news. Her parents and siblings cannot give her a bone marrow transplant because Sarah was secretly adopted.

Sarah is livid and is generally horrible to her entire family for weeks. I get that she has a right to be mad at her parents, but she definitely doesn’t need to take it out on her little sister Tina. One day, in the midst of her fuming, Sarah wakes up from a nap to find a check for $100,000 from the mysterious “One Last Wish” foundation.

Using her need for a marrow donor as an excuse to search for her “real” mom (her words, not mine), Sarah hires a private investigator with her One Last Wish money. Which, 100K seems really expensive for a PI. If Keith Mars’ rates were that high, I think he and Veronica would have had a very different lifestyle. Anyway, the PI finds the birth mother, Janelle Warren, simply by asking the lawyer who settled the incredibly shady-sounding adoption. They don’t even have to get a court order on medical grounds. Apparently it’s really easy to access closed adoption records in Lurlene McDaniel’s universe. Janelle lives out in LA, so Sarah, Sarah’s “fake” mom, and the PI fly out to stalk her.

And big shocker. Sarah’s birth mother, Janelle, is not too jazzed to find the spawn of her fifteen year old closed adoption on her doorstep. She basically tells Sarah to be glad she didn’t have an abortion and to fuck off. Oh, and she can’t give Sarah a bone marrow transplant anyway, because she had breast cancer seven years ago. Cancer runs in the family!

Sarah returns home to a horrible infection and no potential donors, but an overwhelming sense of peace that yes, her family is her family. We are left to wonder whether she lives or dies as Tina goes on national television to encourage people to sign up to be marrow donors.

Notes from the Margin

She was seeing “eyes of such a pale, clear, shade of blue as to resemble light streaming through a window.” Scoot Michaels had described them like that when she’d been eleven, and it had made her blush.”

Right, that’s exactly how eleven year old boys talk.

At least, here in the hospital, she didn’t have to face her friends and the life she’d left back home. What would they think when they found out she was adopted?

I’m going to go out on a branch here and say that if you’re friends react badly when they find out you’re adopted, that’s fucking weird behavior and you should definitely invest in some new friends.

She was certain that her birth mother, Janelle Warren, had wondered about the daughter she’d given away fifteen years before. Once Sarah contacted her, Janelle might be shocked but she would want to meet Sarah. And once she was tested for bone marrow compatibility, Janelle would be a match and would feel compelled to help Sarah.

Yeah, this won’t end badly at all.


Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.