John Gunther tells the story of his son Johnny, and the illness that ended his life at age 17. Johnny Gunther is the author's beloved son. The elder John describes his son's enthusiasm for life and his intelligence especially in the field of science. One day, at the age of 16, Johnny complains of a strange headache and fatigue. The symptoms persist and a series of trips to the hospital confirm the worst, that Johnny has a brain tumor. The tumor proves inoperable and the boy is given only months to live. Not one to let this be the end of the story, Johnny agrees to endure the most aggressive treatments available. He undergoes a series of surgeries that remove "a handful" of the large tumor on his brain stem, but the tumor continues to grow, forming a visible bulge on the boy's head. Johnny continues to study hard, applying to Yale during his senior year, but his availability in the classroom is compromised by his health and hospital visits. He manages to complete most tests and assignments on time nonetheless, and even conducts his own experiments on a home-built science lab of his own design.
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When the tumor rebounds, the Gunther's research frantically, finding word of a treatment involving the injection of mustard gas into tumors. The hospital agrees to perform the controversial treatment, and the result is temporarily good, but within weeks the tumor is growing again and weeping pus out of the boy's head. When traditional treatments fail, the family puts Johnny on a radical diet championed by a cancer writer outside of the medical industry. Again, Johnny improves for a time, but again gets worse. His tumor has grown again and has progressed to the point where it is almost as hard as a rock. A surgery removes "two handfuls" from the virulent mass, but when Johnny recovers he begins to have amnesic episodes. The day after his best day of overall health, the boy begins to lose consciousness and it is learned that his brain is hemorrhaging. He falls asleep and never wakes up. The author intersperses the text with Johnny's own letters and personal writings, demonstrating again his intelligence, his sweet nature, and his belief that science will save the human race.
Best part of story, including ending:
I have known several people who have died of cancer. The arc of this story mirrored the stories of a couple of these people. It's a very sad and helpless story. Very sad to read.
Best scene in story:
I love Johnny's enthusiasm for science and the crazy stuff he works on while he's sick at home.
Opinion about the main character:
Johnny was obviously a great person. It's a shame he couldn't have lived longer.