Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

noggin

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Travis died five years ago.  Now he’s alive again.  But not the same and nothing else is the same either.  Travis’ head is now attached to a different body, a healthy body, one not dying of cancer.  You see, when Travis was dying of cancer, he and his parents took a huge risk and had his head severed from his body and frozen.  Now Travis is one of two survivors of the cryogenic procedure and he has returned to the same home, the same parents, the same friends, but not the same life.  His girlfriend is now engaged to someone else.  His best friend who had admitted he was gay just before Travis died is now dating a girl and about to move in with her.  His mother can’t look at him without crying.  And Travis’ room which used to be his haven now is sterile and hotel-like.  But Travis is the same except for his body.  It was as if he closed his eyes and reopened them.  So what is a guy to do?  Well, he still has to finish high school, get his driver’s license and of course try to regain the girl.  But nothing is simple when you are on a completely different timeframe than everyone else!

Whaley blends immense amounts of humor into his novel.  Though Travis’ experience is unique, it also speaks to the universal experience of being a teen, of not fitting in, of making bad decisions, and yet of being vitally alive at the same time.  Whaley also cleverly turns the trend of books about dying teens on its head (pun intended).  This is a book about life but also deeply about loss, grief and death and how funny it can all be. 

What is most surprising about this book is the honesty it has and that through its humor there are deep truths revealed.  Whaley deals with the emotions of Travis’ return beautifully like in this scene on page 40 when he sees his best friend for the first time:

He let go for a second and wiped his face with the back of one sleeve before holding me by each shoulder and sort of just staring at me for a while with this expression that I’m still convinced no other person has ever had, a combination of shock, joy, pain, and terror.  It was like I could see all his memories of me projected into the air between us, rushing and swirling around and enveloping us both in a nostalgic haze.

This book has tremendous heart and a strong sense of its absurdity.  It has depth, humor and cool scars too.  Pure teen reading perfection.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.