Save Steve is not your stereotypical YA cancer love story

Save Steve by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan. Image courtesy HarperCollins
Save Steve by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan. Image courtesy HarperCollins /

Unlike many of the “cancer stories” you’ve read, the title character of Save Steve is not a nice person. But most of his classmates think he is.

There are a lot of books about teenagers living with (and often dying from) cancer. So we should tell you straight up that Save Steve is nothing like most of the stories you’ve previously read.

And it’s magnificent.

Cam is a versatile activist. He’ll do whatever it takes to save everyone and everything he can — even the local aquarium’s lonesome shark.

It’s through these various petitions, protests, and committees that he meets Kaia.

Kaia is everything a teenage guy could want — pretty, smart, kind, and not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.

There’s just one problem: She’s already taken.

And her boyfriend? He’s a huge jerk. At least toward Cam. To everyone else, he’s the sweet, lovable, popular guy Kaia is lucky to have.

When the entire school finds out Steve has cancer, the sympathy for him only grows. But Cam has a plan: He agrees to join Kaia in organizing a fundraiser for Steve’s family in their time of need … maybe in hope that she’ll realize she’s with the wrong guy after all.

Everything seems to be going according to plan … until Steve finds out, hacks into the fundraising website, and forces Cam to make extreme promises he has no choice but to keep.

This book gets progressively more chaotic with every page. From bee beards to Cardi B hallucinations to drunken rampages for late-night burritos, the story’s hilarious twists and turns make it impossible to stop reading.

Even with the emphasis on (completely satirical) cyberbullying, this story is frustrating only in the way it makes you root for the main character. Cam is purposely written to be slightly unlikeable — at times he’s so obsessed with his vegetarianism, for example, that he ends up rudely declining a chance to show kindness to Steve and his dad.

But Steve’s relentless pestering is part of Cam’s growth as a character (and of course Steve’s as well). Cam does his best to do the right thing in most situations even if he ends up the very public butt of the joke. But he learns to care less about refusing to eat meat and more about empathizing with the people around him.

I also love that this story flips the narrative we often get of “girl tries to choose between two simultaneous admirers” and shows the same rom-com chaos from the males’ perspectives. In the end, they both realize they wanted her for very similar, very genuine reasons (for the most part).

Who gets the girl in the final chapter? Are you kidding? This book’s ending is too good to spoil. You’re going to have to find out for yourself.

In many ways, Save Steve is a fun read in a time when we all need a distraction. Cancer isn’t a fun subject. But both authors have experienced loved ones dealing with cancer in their real lives, and wanted to tell a similar story with as much lighthearted humor as possible. And it hits the mark perfectly in that regard.

This isn’t just another “cancer story.” It’s a story about awful people learning to be better, about the importance of friendship over romance, and about listening to Michelle Obama‘s wise advice, because why wouldn’t you, you know?

It’ll all make sense once you start reading. I promise.

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Save Steve is available now wherever you get your books.