Book Review: John Corey Whaley’s “Noggin”

Published 6/17/14 by:

Noggin Cover

 

 

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to come back to life? Have you ever considered what it would be like to have your fairly perfect life taken away from you at the peak of your teenage existence? Sarcastic, charming and earnest narrator Travis Coates is living an absurd and unbelievably lucky life. And it’s his second go at it.

 

When we meet Travis he’s 21-years-old chronologically speaking, but in reality, he died at the age of sixteen because of cancer, and five years later is back from the dead. No, this is not a supernatural thriller; It’s really the most unique coming of age story I’ve ever read. Travis was living a very ordinary teenage life. It got cut short, and now he gets to live an extraordinary teenage life, but with someone else’s body from the neck down.  Allow me to explain: Travis volunteered for a cutting edge (pun intended) medical trial in which his head (which was perfectly healthy and cancer-free) was extracted from his dying body, and frozen. Doctors made no promises to his family as to how soon science would catch up to Travis’ frosted skull, and so everyone was left in a hopeful limbo. Travis’ quirky, thoughtful girlfriend Cate, his (very in the closet) best friend Kyle, his mom, and his dad waited patiently for Travis to maybe return to the living, but five years is a long time, and people move on. Then, Travis woke up.

 

Imagine waking up and being an actual walking modern miracle. That’s Travis’ new existence. Now imagine what it’s like to see what your death did to the people you loved. Then try to wrap your head around (so punny) the fact that your death eventually was a catalyst for your favorite people to move on. Travis was not forgotten, but his remembering, and the way he wants things to be, are very much in the past for his friends and family. Meanwhile he feels like he’s only been asleep for about ten minutes.

“Up until that point, any time someone said my story ‘inspired’ them, I cringed and I wanted to tell them all the reasons why missing everyone’s lives and coming back and being the only one who was the same was the most terrifying thing I could ever imagine.” (Whaley, 293)

 

This is a novel that explores what second chances are, how difficult growing up can be once, and the struggles of it happening a second time without your friends. Travis’ relentlessness in refusing to let go of the past, which to him, unfortunately, still feels like the present, is both heartbreaking and frustrating. His love for Cate never wavers, but time is a beast even a modern miracle like Travis can’t tame:

“They say you can fall out of love with someone just as easily as you fall into it. But is that also the case when the person you love dies? Do you have to fall out of love with them so you can fall in love with someone else?” (Whaley, 247)

 

I was captivated by both the concept of this book, as well as the narrator. Travis has the ability to be reflective, and wise, but his teenage spirit is evoked when his opinions clash with Cate and Kyle. Herein lies the rub: being resurrected ain’t easy.

Book Grade: A-

 

 

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Book Review: Robyn Schneider’s “The Beginning of Everything”

Published 1/12/14 by:

Beginning of Everything Book Cover

My high school didn’t have a Prom King or Queen. We didn’t have a homecoming weekend, or a valedictorian, and we most certainly did not have a cafe that sold lattes on campus. These are all driving forces at Eastwood High where (protagonist and narrator) Ezra Faulkner has just begun his senior year. It never occurred to me that it was odd that my alma mater didn’t succumb to these traditions until I got to college. Then, for whatever inexplicable reason, I decided to covet said traditions. I retroactively wanted to know what all of those things would’ve been like, and who would’ve secured those heavily anticipated social statuses. I honestly couldn’t tell you who would’ve won Prom King in my class, because frankly, I don’t know what the criteria is, or who would’ve even bothered to vote. I can tell you this: Ezra Faulkner sounds like the kind of guy who would’ve won over everyone at my school, even after his accident.

Yes, Robyn Schneider’s “The Beginning of Everything” starts with beloved tennis prodigy Ezra Faulkner getting into a car accident that shatters his knee. The accident takes place immediately after he finds out his potential Prom Queen girlfriend, Charlotte, has been cheating on him. Thus ensues Ezra’s demise back into the group of brainy friends he had in middle school. He reluctantly joins the debate team, falls for a girl who quotes Foucault, and rekindles his best friendship with the eccentric, bow-tie toting Toby. The high school milestones and social class divisions were originally what sucked me into this novel.  What kept me reading was Ezra’s realization that his accident could be the catalyst for something great, perhaps something even better than the jock table, and tennis scholarships. Additionally, Ezra Faulkner’s likability (as a narrator) stems from his earnestness and wit. He can banter about beer pong, but his Volvo is nicknamed Voldemort. When he shows up without a costume to a Halloween party, people assume he’s dressed as a teenage vampire, because unbeknownst to him, his leather jacket and dirty hair are exuding that “look”. Essentially he’s a teenage boy trying to figure it out, and I appreciated that as a reader.

While some of the plot twists, and character development leave something to be desired, for the most part “The Beginning of Everything” offers an interesting (and hopeful) perspective for current teenagers. For those of us that are over the age of eighteen, “The Beginning of Everything” presents an opportunity to reminisce on the restrictiveness of high school, while allowing us to revel in first love, and other teenage debauchery.

 

Book Grade: B

 

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Book Review: Matthew Quick’s “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock”

Published 12/9/13 by:

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Leonard Peacock surprised me. He surprised me in so many heartbreaking and amusing ways. I won’t lie to you; I picked this book off the “new young adult” shelf at the library because it shouted Silver Linings Playbook at me. That movie was twisted and simultaneously hilarious. Author Matthew Quick must be on to something, because he pulled off the same insane, uproarious, and often polarizing humor in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Is this a novel about teen suicide? Yes. Is it about family dysfunction, and discovering your own makeshift family? Yes. Would I hand this to any middle school student? No. Can I identify who the target audience of this novel is? Yes, but I’m not sure I’d lend them my copy. Herein lies the rub: This is a phenomenal young adult novel, and the craft of it is beyond the scope of anything I’ve read recently, but its darkness makes it a difficult book to recommend to teenagers without some serious apprehension. Basically, as a middle school English teacher, I feel a little stuck. I yearn for people to devour the sheer imaginative power of this novel. I want people to realize that Herr Silverman (Leonard’s history teacher who becomes so much more than that) is manifested in half the teachers I know. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to preach to the adults, and then the teens. It won’t be easy.

 

To the adults (let’s categorize this as 17 or older): You know, knew or love someone like Leonard Peacock. He’s a hopeless dreamer, whose will to live has been squashed by neglectful parents, and a best friend who did an unforgivable thing. You may find him irrational, dramatic, charming, odd, sincere and lonely. You could become easily frustrated with him, his actions, and his reckless abandon. You will admire his letters from the future with tears in your eyes, and perhaps examine how you too can make your (dream/real) life more simplistically gorgeous.

Moment to appreciate: Leonard has just surprised his best friend with tickets to a Green Day show for his birthday. Post-show the two are hanging around the casino where the concert has ended.

“We really didn’t say much more than that; nothing all that extraordinary happened — just typical stupid-ass kid stuff.

Maybe it was the type of high only kids can get and understand.

There were hundreds of adults drinking alcohol and gambling and smoking that night, but I bet none of them felt the higher Asher and I did.

Maybe that’s why adults drink, gamble and do drugs — because they can’t get naturally lit anymore.

Maybe we lose that ability as we get older.

Asher sure did.” (Quick, 128)

 

To the teens: If you are already sad, then this may not be the book to look to. While this novel may include issues you’re dealing with (homosexuality, abuse, neglect, rape, suicide), it does not provide a lot of solutions, or happy endings. If you know someone battling these types of issues, then this book could actually be helpful in you gaining more knowledge about these topics. This book can be entertaining, educational and enlightening. In order for you to experience all of its assets you have to be in the right head space. I’m not sure if you know anyone like Leonard yet, and I worry that when you read this, you may see a bit of Leonard in everyone at your high school, or middle school. This concerns me, but knowing that you reading this book could motivate you to get a classmate help or attention makes me want to recommend it to you. I just don’t want you adopting any of Leonard’s ideas – unless they come straight out of his letters from the future.; In that case, imagine and adopt away.

 

Moment to appreciate: Leonard meets a Christian girl named Lauren who goes to the train station every day and asks people to give their life to Jesus. Leonard has no interest in Christianity, but has a monstrous crush on Lauren, so he sort of pretends to be interested in Christianity to woo her.

     “But I had to know what it was like to kiss her. I just did. I didn’t want to fake being interested in Christianity again, because I was so tired of faking it with everyone else in my life…I thought up a list of questions and I asked her a new one at the train station three times a week.

   Why would god allow the Holocaust to happen?

     If god made everything, why did he invent sin to trick us and then hold our sins against us?

     Why are there so many religions in the world if god created the world and wants us to be Christian?

     Why does god allow people to fight wars over him? (Quick, 152)

 

I apprehensively endorse this book to all teenagers. I wholeheartedly endorse it to adults. It’s my opinion that this book belongs in the modern young adult canon with Speak, Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault In Our Stars et al. I hope it garners enough attention to make its way there.

I tip my hat to you, Leonard. Here’s looking at you, kid.

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