review: Noggin’ by John Corey Whaley

noggin

Noggin’ by John Corey Whaley is a dystopic- no, no that’s not right. It’s realistic fiction that- wait, no. That’s not right, either.

Okay, so I don’t quite know how to categorize a novel about a teen boy who is dying of cancer so he is cryogenically  frozen then given a new, non-cancerous body, via a head transplant. If that isn’t dystopic-science fiction-fantasy-romance then I don’t know what is. I mean, Whaley must really dislike genre stickers that librarians put on novels – or he was going for some kind of record number of stickers on the spine. Either way, the book is un-categorizable. (Yes, I know that isn’t a word. Just like head transplants aren’t real medical procedures. But I did it anyway, all in the name of fiction! HA!)

So I’ve told you the premise of the novel…but what fills the other 300 pages? Oh, right…teen romance. See, Travis feels like he just took a nap. Meanwhile, five years have passed and everyone has moved on. Everyone. Including his girlfriend Cate. In fact, she’s engaged. This, coupled with his parents odd behavior and the stares from his classmates (who were in elementary school when he was put under five years earlier) make for some very weird, mixed-up emotions in Travis that he can’t get a handle on.

I read an advanced reader copy (ARC) of this book laying by the pool at the Vdara resort in Las Vegas. Except for re-applying sunscreen so my pale, freckled skin would stay as perfect as Scarlet O’Hara’s, I didn’t put the book down. (I took sips of my pina colada one-handed. Huzzah!) Although I found Travis to be super whiny and incredibly selfish, I get why Whaley made him such – he is a teen boy (read: pubescent) who just went through a traumatic experience. He is allowed to be a little whiny and selfish. But it’s when his selfishness begins to hurt others that his friends call him out.

This is a fantastic YA novel written by a fantastic author. I don’t think Noggin’ went as deep as his 2012 Printz Award winning Where Things Come Back but that’s just fine. It’s still great. Still worth reading and recommending.

Recommended for: 
Teen boys AND girls. Girls will like the “feels” and boys will appreciate the boy behavior.

Read-alikes:
There are just too many head-transplant books to choose from, so I’ll recommend books that have other, similar themes. Such as The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider and Winger by Andrew Smith.

Book 51: Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo

I read the laugh-out-loud Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo in less than 36 hours, and I suspect you will, too. The first sentence is a bit jarring – “In the past year I masturbated exactly 468 times,” – and will likely force some mothers into putting the book back on the shelf, instead of checking it out/buying it for their teenaged son, but that would be a HUGE mistake. The book is about high school senior Chuck Taylor (hence the “Cons” in the title) who is obsessive-compulsive about a few things. Namely, tallying his masturbation, checking the stove, the lock on his school locker (must be spun 14 times before he can walk away), and peeing 16 times before bed. Oh, and he is obsessively clean. No dust bunnies. No petting animals. And definitely no camping! (Even if the only thing that pulled him through four long years of high school – the Senior Trip – is camping.) Is the title of the book (Lexapro) starting to make sense now?

Chuck is smart, funny, and cute. And that is all according to the new girl, Amy, whom he tutors (in math, his least favorite subject). He falls in love with Amy, and is determined to keep from the beautiful angel who acknowledges his existence his OCD quirks. But that doesn’t quite work out the way he plans, and he is forced into damage control mode. What I like about the book is that although you can see where it’s going to lead, you still read on because you just have to see the good guy win in the end. The author does such a good job of writing a solid novel with loveable characters (and, alternately, quite hateful ones), and makes normal high school situations actually bearable to re-live (or, in the case of teen readers, experience for the first time). This novel would be an excellent introduction for teen boys into high school life, because it would give them a realistic expectation: bullies, unrequited love, loneliness, fears, and authentic friendships.

This story of facing your fears, friendships, and personal growth is absolutely charming, and an excellent read for any young man or verrrry accepting young woman (seriously, the excessive masturbation thing is a bit “eww!”, and I’m 26 years old; I wish the author had brought it up maybe once or twice, not throughout the whole novel).

Book 48: Wild Thing by Josh Bazell

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell is the sequel to 2009’s most hilarious adult novel Beat the ReaperBefore I dive too far into WT, let me back up and tell you just a few things about our hardcore mobster/Doctor protagnoist, Peter. Or is it Pietro? Ishmael? No wait, it’s Lionel. Or, well, whoever the heck he is calling himself now-a-days.

Pietro Brnwna lost his parents, then his grandparents (to a brutal murder), and was quickly scooped up by his best friend’s loving, rich, mafia-tied family, the Locano’s. He killed some folks for his new employer/father figure, but ended up in some trouble, landing him as a state’s witness. (Hence name change number one.) He got a mentor who helped him get into med school, earning him an M.D. So he went from taking lives to saving lives. Wouldn’t you know…his two lives collide right inside of the Manhattan hospital he is a resident at, when a former fellow-mobster is battling hear disease. The story of Beat the Reaper is one that I have not stopped recommending to adult males, and young adult males who can deal with mature content such as sex and violence (and understand it in its setting, not in the “oooh cool, sex! Murder! kind of way).

Wild Thing is the continuation of Peter’s story. We re-acquaint ourselves with him on a cruise ship in the Caribbean where he is the resident doctor. His old mentor has a job for him that is too intriguing to pass up…as is the super sexy paleontologist who was assigned to join him on the excursion, on behalf of the reclusive billionaire (nicknamed Rec Bill by the two) who bought their admission onto the monster hunt of a lifetime: finding the creature that lives in the White Lake in Minnesota.

His mob roots do not creep up nearly as much in this novel as I suspected they would (although the skills he exposed in BTR made numerous appearances in this second novel). This novel was definitely more of a mystery than his last, which was just utterly gruesome at times (breaking your own limbs, death by shark), and LOL hilarious at others.WTstill had the sarcasm, but not as much humor.

All that being said, I was not completely let down. I will still recommend the pair of novels to adult men and women, and mature young men. The stories are weaved so well, and I never saw the twists coming. That is the making of a good mystery, yes? An element of Bazell’s novels that I just cannot get enough of are the little facts. I swear, some times I think Bazell has an agenda to, like, teach his readers random facts. And…I freaking love it.

Book 17: Also Known As Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

Also Known As Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher is an amusing yet serious Young Adult novel about high school sophomore Bobby Steele, who happens to share a name (and an apartment) with a man with the same name…a man who, in an uncharacteristic fit of rage, abused his wife, causing her to leave him and their two sons behind. For that reason, young Bobby found it quite easy to re-name and re-make himself into the kind of boy who would get accepted to the preppy private school in town, Whitestone Academy. The kind of boy who would get the pretty, leggy, blond girl. The kind of guy that, when faced with bullies, stood up to them.

I adore the character of Bobby/Rowan. He is authentic, he is likeable, he is a bit naive, and he is even scared…but he (almost) always does the right thing. I cannot wait to recommend this book to young readers (as young as 10/11, or as old as a less-mature 17).

One last comment…my coworker pointed out that the novel is dedicated to the incredible YA author Chris Crutcher. Here is the dedication: “For Chris Crutcher, fine writer and friend, who helped me envision this book when it was still a tiny wet thing, rising from the straw on wobbly legs”. We can all use a friend like that…