01 September 2014

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I loved this book so much. I actually read the whole thing in a single 24-hour period. Total reading time was about 6 hours, spread out over a couple sittings when I could steal the time to read.

First off, the cover. Brilliant. Funny but not overly so. Just really captured the whole tone of the book - ridiculous but also somehow very human. It captured that youthful energy really well.

The premise: genius. 16-year-old Travis Coates dies, gets head cryogenically frozen, then reattached to new body five years later and revived. Great.

There were twists and turns, there were deliciously formed characters, including another excellent portrayal of an LGBT character. There was a really heartbreaking and honest moment early in the book that earned a “Holy shit!” from me - in a good way. I don’t want to spoil it, though.

And the book even took place in Kansas City, my home town! Though I did have a bit of a beef when there was a Christmas scene and not one mention was made of the Plaza Lights. Still, John Corey Whaley did an admirable job recreating my hometown on the page. My favorite part was when Travis sees the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the first time, and describes it as side-by-side spaceships that are melted into the ground, more or less.

Honestly, it’s boobs. But I digress...

What stood out more than anything, though, was Travis’s voice. Travis made me laugh and he broke my heart. He’s the kind of guy I would have loved to hang out with when I was in high school. He was every bit as real, as vivid, as Austin was in Grasshopper Jungle, and I found myself enjoying it every bit as much.

Noggin spoke very deeply to me, and I imagine it did to others as well. Beneath its speculative exterior, it was, to me, about two things:

First, what it’s like to be uncomfortable in our own skins. Travis experiences an extreme version of this, since he’s literally in someone else’s skin. But the worries he has are honest and real for all of us.

Second, the experience of lost time. Travis fights so hard to get back the time he lost. Most of us don’t lose it quite so thoroughly as him, but we sometimes fight just as hard - and, as was the case with Travis, it’s not always the best thing for us or for those we love.

I went out and bought Grasshopper Jungle after reading it from the library, and I happened to pick up Noggin at the same time, because I just had a feeling I would love it, and I was right. I’m so glad to have it in my collection.

I hope, rather selfishly, that one day my own novel will have a place on a shelf with such a great book.