Sunday, 28 February 2016

Review || Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Noggin by John Corey Whaley ★★☆☆☆
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.

I couldn't talk about this book in the way I wanted to without spoiling major parts of the plot. So read on at your own discretion!

This is a difficult one to rate because some parts of this book were really excellent and other parts were just definitely trying too hard.

On the excellent side of things you have all of the parts that deal with death and grief. The flashback scenes where Whaley explores how people deal with grief are really poignant and heartwrenching. Watching Travis as he is, sick and dying, is only compounded by watching what his friends and family are going through. Even after he comes back, there are scenes that focus on the repercussions of this. About how tangled up all the emotions are after having grieved for five years and now suddenly have Travis thrust back into their lives. The execution here was fantastic.

However, most of the plot felt insincere, like it was trying too hard to say something profound. Like the subplot regarding Travis' best friend Kyle and his sexuality. Travis pushes and pushes--and it doesn't come off as genuine concern for his friend, but more like superiority that Travis understands the Truth of the situation and it's kind of obnoxious--but eventually gets Kyle to admit he's been in denial for years and then... Nothing. Happens. Well, nothing more than a few throwaway lines. It felt too much like a ploy for a pat on the back more than genuine inclusion of diversity.

And then there's the romance plot with Cate. Imagine me making a lot of aggravated noises as you read this section because OH MY GOD NONE OF THIS WAS OKAY. I appreciated Travis' sort of Twilight Zone experiences because it's only felt like a few weeks for him, but this whole thing should've been shut down after the first attempt because it just became creepy and gross. Cate makes it very clear that there will be no rekindling of the romance between her and Travis. Explicitly clear. Multiple times. That this is not what she wants. That she has a fiance and has moved on. And Travis continues to be completely gross and obsessive about the entire thing, going so far as to buy her and ring and try to propose (and her fiance is literally feet away).

To be fair, most of the side characters in the book are yelling at Travis for being stupid about this, but even still the narrative still mostly tries to make you buy in. Or tries to excuse it. It was terrible and awful and it almost made me DNF this at like 75% of the way through because I could not stand it.

Whaley tries to make amends at the end by offering some thoughts on how to move on and let go, but then allows Travis to continue to make excuses. And if that epilogue is anything to go by, I don't know if Travis really got it at all.

So. 2 stars. Parts of this were great writing and parts of it made me want to set the book on fire. Mostly, I'm disappointed in how this turned out because there were glimpses of something great hiding beneath the problematic. I don't know that I'd recommend this book at the end of the day.