Saturday, April 19, 2014

What we're reading: Noggin

We so enjoyed our visit from John Corey Whaley, the Printz Award-winner for Where Things Come Back, and author of the new book Noggin! What a fun, accessible guy!

His new book sounded like a hoot, and I couldn't wait to read it. It's a bizarre combination of science fiction and coming of age: Travis Coates, 16, is dying of leukemia. He has a last strange alternative to death, which is to choose to be decapitated (!) and have his head cryogenically frozen until science catches up and he can live again by having his head attached to a donor body. (Yes, the book does take place in the future, but not noticeably so--not far enough in the future to significantly impact technology or lifestyle.) So Travis and his friends and family figure it's going to be at least 15-20 years before this happens (if ever--let's be realistic about his chances here), but surprise! it becomes possible in five years--a donor body (a guy in great health except for his terminal brain tumor) becomes available, the operation is done, and wham! Travis is back.

The problem is, Travis feels like he's just been down for a short nap, while for everyone else who was in his life, he was effectively dead, and they have grieved and moved on. The biggest problem for Travis is that while he remains 16, his girlfriend is now 21, and engaged to someone else!

So this is the part of the book where it becomes much more about an ordinary teen with ordinary problems--friend problems, family problems, girl problems. Yes, everything is impacted by Travis coming back from the dead, but mostly it's about a teenage boy, trying to adjust to his world and figure out his life. Not so different from any other teen (except for the scar around his neck).

I really enjoyed this book. As a sci fi geek, I admit I would have liked more of the science to be present (for instance, I wanted more than the little hints about muscle memory on the part of the body), but I recognize and respect Corey's reasons for not going there (he said he wanted it to be more about the human relationships and less about the science), and I think he pulled off a really good tale. The humor is a great counterpoint to dealing with several serious subjects (death, relationships, choosing your future), and Travis's journey is unexpectedly real, considering his back story. The book was fun, entertaining, thought-provoking, emotionally evocative, and well-written. And no chance for a "head" joke (including the title) was left unexploited. Good job, Corey!

By the way, you teens who also bought the book, we'd love to hear what you thought of it!


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