The Friday 52: How to Climb the Eiffel Tower, by Elizabeth Hein

[This review is based on the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) digital edition published by Light Messages in 2014.]

The single-sentence synopsis:
We follow along with Lara Blaine as she is diagnosed with cervical cancer and undergoes treatment and incredible life changes along the way.

Judging the cover:
The ribbon across the top reads, “a novel about life and cancer.” The bright white cover very much brings the theme of life to the forefront, and the Eiffel Tower necklace left me wondering what the connection between the two would be. No one’s actually going to climb the Eiffel Tower…are they?

First thought I had after I finished reading:
I was kind of hoping we’d actually read about her climbing the actual Eiffel Tower, but aside from that the story was great!

And here’s why:
How to Climb the Eiffel Tower is yet another book I came across at BEA. I intended to pick up an autographed ARC but by the time I reached the line, all the copies were gone! Ms. Hein had us leave our names and email addresses in a notebook she’d been carrying with the promise that we’d be emailed a link to download a copy via NetGalley. I was elated when the link arrived in my inbox and couldn’t wait to read it!

The story serves as a reminder that cancer can hit anyone at any time. It’s less a cautionary tale and more about how you deal with adversity and being given something as serious as a cancer diagnosis. Add to this a history of rape, abandonment, and loneliness, and you have Lara Blaine. Reading about her childhood just made me want to hug her; no one deserves the hand she was dealt. Having to go through all of that alone and then walking away with absolutely no support system to back her up is simply heartbreaking, and I wished that she would open herself up to new friendships, and possibly even new love. So, you can imagine my relief when she is befriended by Jane, another cancer patient, and Vanessa, a Human Resources administrator at her workplace…and my confusion over several seemingly potential suitors before the actual love interest pops up out of nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy — I just wish we’d had more time to get to know him. (I’m not going to spoil his identity. You’ll have to read the book!)

As for the title reference, I felt that Lara, while she didn’t actually climb the real Eiffel Tower before the end of the book, managed to climb it metaphorically in several ways. Aside from making friends and finding a boyfriend, she trades in the machines at the gym for a cancer-benefit triathlon; she speaks up for herself at work and with her rapist; and she realizes that radiation, which burns away the cancer in her cervix, is also symbolically burning away her terrible past and paving the way for a fresh start in life. This revelation hits her while she’s in the middle of her final day of radiation, and I actually cheered for her. Lara deserves all the good things in life, and this wake-up call provides the opportunity for her to begin accepting those things!

The only problem I had with How to Climb the Eiffel Tower was that, as a woman, it scared the hell out of me. While Lara was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I’m fully aware that there are several other cancers — breast, ovarian, uterine — that are reserved for females, and reading about Lara’s diagnosis and treatment was terrifying. As someone who hasn’t heard the phrase, “You have [blank] cancer,” I couldn’t relate to Lara’s experiences. I had to read this as an outsider, although I did connect with her on several other levels. This is the kind of book that I would call a must-read for women with cancer, but it’s worth reading for any woman in any situation!

On a scale of 1-5, I would give it a…

Follow Elizabeth Hein on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Bloglovin, and Goodreads, and don’t forget to check out her website and her blog!

How to Climb the Eiffel Tower will be available for purchase on October 1, 2014. Click here to pre-order via Barnes and Noble or IndieBound!

  • Erin,
    Thank you for such a lovely review. I’m thrilled that you connected with Lara and her story.

    I can appreciate your being scared by Lara’s diagnosis. No one ever wants to think about a 29 year old woman getting a cancer diagnosis. I was a young mom when I got diagnosed with a blood cancer, and it was really scary. Luckily, a person can get through a cancer diagnosis with the help of some good friends. Take care.

  • What a great review! I’m Elizabeth Hein’s editor and am delighted you enjoyed the novel. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and support Elizabeth.