Saturday, January 29, 2011

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

I don't read many books like this one. In fact, after reading the first few pages of this book I'm a bit surprised that I didn't put it down. And yet, it's not that difficult for me to see why I kept reading. This book was absolutely addictive, pure and simple. Most books with terminally ill lead characters get bogged down with seemingly endless descriptions of the characters thinking. It becomes an obsessive journey into the inner workings of every decision they make. This wasn't the case here.

While Ben certainly has to come to terms with his own imminent demise, he does it with a sense of urgency and intelligence that makes someone want to persist despite what they know is coming. This story doesn't pull any punches. It doesn't pander, give false hope, or pretend that things are going to work out because of some hokey moment of enlightenment when everyone comes to terms with their shortcomings and is better for it. It doesn't end clean for everyone, and there aren't a lot of alternatives to that end that would have come off so honest. The conversations with Hey-Soos that Ben has every so often are really about as deep as it gets here, and they are as laced with sarcasm and humor as they are with real insights.

This book is worth the read, whether or not it leaves you feeling down for a day or so afterwards. I won't deny that the issue of someone who only recently legally qualified as an adult deciding to keep his terminal illness to himself doesn't raise some objections in my mind, but I'm not sure if he didn't make the right decision under the circumstances. It certainly blew up in his face with Dallas Suzuki, as it did with his brother Cody in some regard. On the flip side, hiding his illness was what allowed him to play football, to not be treated with kid gloves by his teachers, and to not go down coddled and miserable.

While I came to this book with a pretty set notion of what's the right approach to an issue like this, I left with a lot more to think about. I think my ultimate conclusion is that this is an something I have no business pressing my judgements about unless it applies to me personally. This book will probably make you think about this too, though whether you come to the same conclusion as I do is on your head.

Throughout the book, Ben recommends reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, and yes, I took that recommendation and I'm glad I did. Now I'm going to recommend that you read Deadline. Crutcher knew what he was doing when he created Ben Wolf and he did it without apologizing for the rough parts. That makes it a worthwhile read.

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