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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Shannon O'Hara, skating down the ice chasing after the puck, comes face to face with a larger-than-life opposing team player. Never one to back down from anything, barely five feet fall, Shannon tangles with the player and ends up with a penalty. As she sits in the penalty box—only thinking about getting out in two minutes—no one would ever imagine that this beautiful, vibrant, and competitive young spirit will be gone in 54 days. The devastating news that 12-year-old Shannon is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor is unfathomable, surreal, and unimaginable. This is the raw and emotional story of the O'Hara's as they prepare for the fight of their lives, and their ultimate loss. Written and inspired by a blog that Dan and Jen O'Hara wrote to keep in touch with their family, friends, and supporters near and far, the story follows the yearlong battle from diagnosis to death and exemplifies how to live the "new normal" every day, no matter what it entails. Shannon's struggle reveal…

Determined to Matter

by Jen O'Hara

Overall Book Review:

Determined to Matter by Jen O’Hara is the compelling story of a family dealing with the diagnosis of their 12-year-old daughter, Shannon, with an inoperable brain tumor.  Most of the book is taken straight from the blog entries made daily by Jen and her husband, Dan, as they kept family and friends updated on their situation, but at the beginning of each chapter Jen O’Hara writes something of what it is like to look back on those blog entries from the perspective of a mother who has lost her child.  These passages are especially poignant.  In one such passage Jen writes:

“There is no term for someone who loses a child.  It goes against the natural order of things.  If you lose your parents, you are orphaned, and if you lose a spouse you are widowed.  But to lose a child…it’s unthinkable.”

It is through reading Jen’s musings that the reader is reminded of the seriousness of the diagnosis, because the blog entries stay rather hopeful through the first half of the book.  Shannon’s desire was to never allow the diagnosis and treatment to keep her down, and her wishes were honored by her parents, coaches, and friends.  Because of this, the first 150 pages of the book are a nearly constant stream of descriptions of sports practices, games, and get-togethers with those that are important to their family.  While this provided some context, it was slow-moving, a bit long, and not as engaging as the later part of the book.

The O’Haras are the first to recognize that they were extremely lucky to live close to the Mayo clinic where Shannon had most of her treatment, so that these treatments became part of “a new normal” for the family instead of an all-encompassing lifestyle as can happen to many families.  Another blessing they gladly recognize is the fact that both parents were able to almost completely stop working and concentrate on their family, making their last summer together one of “perpetual vacation.”  There is no doubt that the O’Hara family handled their last days with their child as they wished to, living (for the most part) in the moment and trying not to worry too much about what was coming next.

The last half of the book tugs at the heartstrings as the reader walks with the family through Shannon’s decline and passing, as well as witnesses their grief and valiant efforts at getting on with their lives.  Determined to Matter is a good read for anyone lacking in appreciation for those special people in their lives.  It is a reminder to all to look around and really see what wonderful things those we love bring into our world.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Scarletta Press

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language: 19 Mild Obscenities; 1 Religious Profanity; 2 Scatological Words; 1 Anatomical Term; 2 F-Word derivatives.

Violence/Gore:  None

Sex/Nudity:  None

Mature Subject Matter:

Terminal illness and death.

Alcohol / Drug Use:


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About the Reviewer

I have learned through the years that what I read has a strong impact on the way I feel and how I look at life. I have learned to be wise about what I read. As a mother of four, I try to encourage my kids to choose good books. I try to help them to find favorite authors and explore new genres.