The Girl With Nine Wigs: Overview
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from Goodreads Giveaways. Writing a review was optional, but encouraged.
Sophie van der Stap‘s memoir The Girl with Nine Wigs chronicles the concerns of a typical 21-year-old college student: the stress and excitement at the start of a new semester, relationships with family and friends, clubbing, picking up men, and navigating the difficulties of a friends-with-benefits relationship. Like many young adults, Sophie is discovering and exploring the different facets of her personality. She also found out she has cancer.
Sophie lives out the fear in the back of everyone’s mind when they go to the doctor with a health concern. Having felt weak and short of breath, Sophie endures a litany of tests expecting a prescription for medication so she can get back to worrying about her studies instead of her health. Instead, her doctor tells her she has cancer and quickly starts her treatment. Like many cancer patients experiencing hair loss due to treatment, Sophie buys a wig. As you probably deduced from the title she winds up collecting nine wigs in total. Each wig receives a name and persona to reflect certain aspects of Sophie’s personality. Sue’s short red hair makes Sophie feel strong and decisive while the shiny whiteness of Platina’s bob radiates carefree fun. If she wants to feel exotic, sexy, independent, insecure, or thoughtful, Sophie only needs to pick the wig to help her channel her trait of choice. Sophie describes this experience as her “cancer vacation”, using this frighteningly uncertain time to freely explore her identity with abandon.
My first thought when I pick up a book about cancer is “how many tissues am I going to need?” (Thanks, John Green.) I expected an abundance of somber scenes of hospitals, chemotherapy, hair found in the shower drain, distressing reactions from Sophie’s loved ones, and all the other tropes that come with books about illness. These topics and scenes are certainly present but Sophie never seems to dwell on them for long. The memoir is always primarily about identity. Which wig/persona will Sophie wear when she goes out with friends to feel normal amid the chaos of her situation? When she wants to go into treatment with a brave face? When she has a date and wants to be seen as a normal girl instead of “the girl with cancer”? When she has to meet with a doctor to hear the results of a medical test? Each wig allows Sophie to transform not into a different person, but an amplified version of part of her personality. Sophie sees opportunities to treasure both the highs and lows in life. Sophie is always hopeful, but aware her life is not guaranteed.
It was easy to connect with Sophie’s journey because even though not everyone has cancer, we’ve all dealt with our identities. Being in your twenties probably brings your first major identity crisis as you transition from childhood to adulthood. How many of you decided you were going to become a different person when you entered high school or college? How many of you went through with it? It’s pretty rare that someone’s personality drastically changes. Reservations hold us back from exploring facets of our personalities. It was inspiring to see Sophie bring aspects of her personality to the forefront, giving the spotlight to her sass, sensuality, or reserve. When you’re looking death in the eye, Sophie says in so many words, there’s really no good reason to hold yourself back. Be more outgoing than you ever dreamed you could be. Show the bravery you never knew you even possessed. Step out of your comfort zone, because one day it could all be taken away. It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to finally live.
I really enjoyed how the chapters in this book were relatively short. I bring a book to work with me every day and I hate having to stop midway through a chapter because my lunch break is over. That was never a problem with The Girl with Nine Wigs. Some chapters were a page or two long. If you’re like me get fatigued by long chapters, this book will definitely appeal to you. It was an easy read both in terms of the setup of the chapters and in the storytelling. Sophie sounds like someone you might know. She is very down-to-earth and honest. Even though she possesses an enviable bravado, there are times in the book when she breaks down and admits she is still frightened. She remains positive, but there are still times when she lets herself wonder what she will leave behind and miss if she doesn’t beat her disease. However, her mindset reflects the book: she spends more attention on living life than succumbing to disease.
One of the issues I had with the book is Sophie’s seemingly wealthy background makes some of her preoccupations seem petty when compared with the struggles of an ordinary cancer patient. She receives a few of her wigs as gifts, but buys about half of them. Good quality wigs cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Her advice to explore different aspects of yourself is awesome, but it certainly comes more easily when you can purchase a plethora of wigs to get you started. I thought of cancer patients who can’t even afford one wig, who are so weakened by treatment they can’t leave their beds, who can’t go on vacation. It made Sophie’s boy drama seem petty in comparison. Sure, romantic issues are typical for twenty-somethings, but if you have cancer and can still find the strength to head out on the town till all hours of the morning maybe be a little thankful for that.
Overall, this was an easy read with a hopeful message.
Rating: 3 out of 5 wigs.