Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic
January 17, 2012; HMH Children's Books
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I had the dream again. The one where I’m running. I don’t know what from or where to, but I’m scared, terrified really.
Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. But in the short time he has left there’s one thing he can do: He can try to help the people he loves live—even though he never will.
It’s probably hopeless.
But he has to try. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Never Eighteen is yet another example of how the real life can influence a reader's opinion of a book. This book is about a teenage boy dying of leukemia living out his final days - trying to help the people around him live fuller lives. The book is full of sadness and hope. But I couldn't connect with it. I chose to read it on a very bad day. I started it only a few hours after learning that my good friend's 29 year old brother, who had been diagnosed with leukemia only 5 months earlier, had no more options (sadly, he passed a week later). I was reading it as part of a blog tour so I needed to get it finished in a hurry. Otherwise, I would have put it down until my emotions had settled. No matter how sad this book is, it felt artificial compared to real life suffering.
With that said, I will try to give a somewhat balanced review of this book. Austin is, in a way, a very lucky guy. He knows how much time he has left and has the physical strength left to do the things that need to be done and say the things that need to be said. Most of this book takes place over the course of a single weekend. There are a lot of things that Austin could be doing with his dwindling days. He chooses to spend an entire weekend talking to various people in his life who he thinks are not living life to the fullest. This speaks volumes about Austin's character.
I loved how Megan presented the various characters that Austin spoke to. They had a wide variety of problems: loneliness, anger, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, fear. And they weren't just his friends. He even approached a kid he'd bullied in elementary school. Austin knew he couldn't fix their problems, but he thought that if he showed them how they've impacted his life and how important it is for them to embrace life, maybe they'd change for the better. Their reactions were not all tears and sunshine. I was very pleased that Never Eighteen presented somewhat realistic reactions to being told you need to correct something about yourself.
Traveling with Austin on his journey is his best friend Kayla. Austin is brave enough to face death head on, but can he tell his best friend that he's in love with her? Their relationship was a great sideshow from Austin's various meetings. Their conversations and Austin's thoughts about Kayla is how I learned the most about Austin's life and personality. They trajectory of their relationship was the main thing that brought me to tears at the end of the novel.
Now onto the aspects I didn't like. For the most part, I did not emotionally connect was Austin and his plight. I blame this on the simultaneous real life events which were much more tragic in my eyes. So I don't fault the book for that. But I do think the pacing was odd. If I hadn't read the blurb I wouldn't have known that Austin was dying of cancer. It's not mentioned until midway through the novel. You just know that *something* is happening. I also thought certain events were disjointed. For example, Austin tells his mom that he's stopping cancer treatments. It was a two line discussion. No protests, no details, no explanation. I can't imagine a situation in real life where that would happen. Perhaps this book's greatest fault is that it is too short. It is a rare writer who can craft a rich story with fully developed characters in 200 pages. Never Eighteen is well-written and flows very quickly, but it was not able to achieve the fullness that, say, a 300 page novel could.
I'm not giving this book a rating, because I can't come up with a definitive, impartial opinion. Never Eighteen is a good book with heart. Despite my disconnect, I still managed to cry a little at the end - and the prospect of tears is half the reason I read books like this. I greatly respect Austin and loved his relationship with Kayla.