Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What If You Only Had One Year to Live?

Chris Crutcher is a prolific young adult author adored by fans all over the world for his coming-of-age novels, of which *Deadline* is a fine example. I was intrigued by the premise, which is that Ben Wolf, an 18 year old senior in high school, finds out at the beginning of the school year that he has an aggressive form of blood cancer, and has, at most, one year to live. The kicker is that he decides not to tell anyone-- not even his parents-- and not to undergo any sort of treatment. He wants to spend his last year living life to its fullest instead of living it weak and sick from chemotherapy. He is visited in his dreams by "Hey-Soos", a sort of spiritual guide who helps him process his thoughts about the time he has left on earth. Ben decides not to live life according to his own fears or societal expectations, so he goes out for the football team (he had previously been a cross-country superstar), asks his long-held crush out for dinner, and challenges a particularly conservative, hard-headed civics teacher on a variety of social issues. This, for me, was a huge detractor from the novel. The civics teacher reads like a caricature of some sort of Bill O'Reilly ultra-conservative numbskull who actually argues that Japanese internment camps were acceptable and that book burning can be okay. I have a really hard time believing that any civics teacher would actually act like this to the degree that this guy does, and I also was irritated by his staunch refusal to allow Ben to do his senior project on Malcolm X due to his own conservative political beliefs (Ben wants to campaign to have a street in their small Idaho town named after Malcolm X). Another issue I had with the book is Ben's miraculous healing of the town alcoholic by giving him food and supplements. Really? Is that all it takes? A final element that I found hugely disturbing and out of place in the novel is the TWO parallel storylines involving incest. If Crutcher had stuck with the main dilemma of Ben's one year to live and avoided these odd sidetracks, I would have given this novel at least one additional banana. 2.5 out of 4 Bananas!

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