'Every man dies...

by tosca on Saturday, June 5, 2010

...Not every man really lives.'

~ William Ross Wallace

Title: Deadline
Author: Chris Crutcher
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Year: 2007
Genre: Teen fiction
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Synopsis: Given the medical diagnosis of one year to live, high school senior Ben Wolf decides to fulfill his greatest fantasies, ponders his life's purpose and legacy, and converses through dreams with a spiritual guide known as "Hey-Soos."

What if you only had one year to live...and you knew it?

"Going out quietly is a lot more complicated than I thought."

My apologies in advance for the long-ass book review! The synopsis doesn't even begin to touch on how great this book really is. Yes, at the heart of it, it's about an 18 year old who, in his last year of high school, suddenly finds out he has one year to live - but it encompasses so much more. When Ben's doctor requests an appointment with he and his parents, Ben decides to turn up alone. With a mother who is a manic depressive/alcoholic, he's convinced it can only be news that will make the home situation rockier. And he's right. Ben has an aggressive blood disease and, as a result, has only a year at the most. With treatment it may extend his life a little but not by much. It seems like there is only one choice: to undergo treatment. But Ben surprises the doctor by adding different decisions to the mix: to not seek treatment, and to not tell anyone. And by 'anyone' I do mean anyone: his father - who holds the home fort, especially when mum has her 'down' sessions because he's in for better or for worse - even though he could never have seen just how bad 'worse' could be; his younger but bigger brother who is the other half of himself; his mother - who would hear it but would think it was her fault and probably never come out of a funk if she were told; and his coach - who has become a surrogate father with whom his relationship is a lot more relaxed than with his own.

Ben wants his life to be 'normal' and at the same time that's never going to happen because he changes things as a result of his impending death that ensure the next 12 months are going to be above and beyond anything he ever knew. He quits cross-country and tries out for football, decides to go all out to get the girl he loves to notice him, makes friends with the local town drunk, asks his coach about a deeply personal event nobody ever really talks about, constantly challenges his bigoted civics teacher, learns how truly conservative his hometown is and finds his own voice. When his relationship with Dallas Suzuki (the girl he loves) becomes deeper than he thought it ever could be, he starts to realise that maybe not telling the truth about his life-expectancy means that people won't have a chance to face it head on, only it gets harder and harder to find the time to tell it and tell it well. And as the 12 month deadline looms closer he finds that it's his worry about the wellbeing of the people he will leave behind that matters most.

It's an event filled year (to say the least) and, as if dealing with the people part isn't hard enough, he's having internal conversations with Hey-Soos (an alter-ego of sorts, and yes, it's pronounced Hey-Soos when it could just as well be Jesus) in his sleep. The wise-cracking bathrobe and sandals wearing Hey-Soos who keeps trying to show him that not telling people about his condition is one big fat lie. Not only is it a lie, but it denies the people who love him, and are around him, the chance to deal with it however they need to and, in the end, may make it harder on them. Especially when it seems like people are making future plans that include him.

'Deadline' shows us characters who are so flawed they just have to be real: the town drunk with his own terrible secret; the weird on the outside but beautiful on the inside Dallas Suzuki with her own twice-over heartbreaking story; the high school bully with the secret that everybody knows but doesn't talk about out loud; Ben's own crazy but not crazy mother; his father who is physically there for he and his brother and cares for them but never really talks about what's going on with the mother.

I love Crutcher's books - they're never middle of the road stories and are always provocative and hardhitting. This is the same but, in a way, I think it hits home harder for 2 reasons: you know right from the outset that the character is dying; it makes you think about your own life and the quality of it. I cried buckets. In fact, I was in tears from the first chapter to the very end, but it's a cathartic crying (yes there is such a thing). Ben is brave and wise beyond his years and his ability to deal with it the way he does is both scary and beautiful and inspiring. This is a brilliant read - it devastated me and inspired me time and again throughout the reading. Now I have to go and force everybody I know to read it. I'd recommend reading Crutcher's aubiogiography, also, it's a hoot from cover to cover: King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography (2003).

One comment

I've tried - twice - to read this - but the threat of tears stopped me. So, I've skimmed it to avoid flooding.
I thought Whale talk was bad enough, re tears.

by Annie on June 25, 2010 at 1:41 PM. #

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