Monday, June 9, 2014

Audiobook Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

From Goodreads:
Listen — Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.

Now he’s alive again.

Simple as that.

The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but he can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still 16 and everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too.

Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, then there are going to be a few more scars.

Oh well, you only live twice.
There are so many layers to this book that I can barely stand it.  It's one of the few YA titles that I'd classify as both literary and completely engaging.  Our main character is a teenage boy who was dying of cancer and agreed to an experimental procedure in which his head would be frozen and reattached to something (science wasn't sure what) in the future.

Travis expected to come back, but in the distant future.  Instead, he comes back only five years later.  Enough time has passed that his best friend, girlfriend, parents, and family have all grieved his loss and begun to move on, but not so much time that they are significantly different than they were when he died.  Not only is our main character dealing with the emotional ramifications of living in a stranger's body, he also has to deal with the experience of waking up from what feels like a night's sleep to find that everyone he knows has changed.

What amazed me was how thoroughly Whaley has fleshed out all of the ramifications of this, both in Travis's personal life and in the culture at large.  I feel like everything was thought through and no stone was left unturned in examining Travis's experiences.  He is intensely sympathetic, as are all of the characters in the book, even when Travis finds himself at odds with them.  We're put in Travis's head, but we can also see clearly the motivations of emotions of the other characters.

There's so much to rave about here, but I want to be sure to point out my favorite aspect, and that is how I think most older teens (or those of us who have been older teens at some point in our lives) can identify with Travis's predicament even though it is, at present, a scientific impossibility.  Whaley uses Travis's story to explore the same emotions that are involved in just growing up.  When you're in high school, you're sure that your relationships will never change.  Then you go to college, move away, make new friends, and things inevitably change.

I so completely identified with Travis's feelings of disconnection as he realized that his best friend and girlfriend have continued to live life while he wasn't there.  Doesn't everyone experience that after graduation?  When you come home for the summer and realize that your BFF who went to a different school had a whole huge range of experiences that you weren't a part of?  Or that your high school boyfriend who you thought you'd be with forever has met someone new and is torn between his relationship with you and his new life away from you?  It just killed me how spot on he got those emotions and expressed them through this science fictional story.  Brilliant.

Entertainment Value
You've probably realized by now that I absolutely adored this book.  But I don't want to push it off as being deep and literary only, because it's also funny and charming and engrossing.  The characters are all lovable and there are several unexpected moments of lighthearted humor and validations of the human experience.  It's also got some of the more emotional moments that readers might associate with books like The Fault in Our Stars where Travis reflects on his death and the illness leading up to it.  I couldn't stop listening.

Nicely done, although I was distinctly aware that an adult was reading a teenager's narration.  I think Whaley does an amazing job of creating a teenage voice, but the narrator sounds like an adult reading a teen's voice.  It took me out of the story several times, but was overall not a major issue.

You must read it.  Required.  Beware of some crude language (we're in a sixteen year old's mind, remember) but don't let that stop you from picking this one up.  It's beautifully done and I can almost guarantee that you will love it if you've enjoyed books like Eleanor & Park and The Fault in Our Stars.

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