THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY is the first book published this year that I have absolutely loved. I devoured the whole thing in a single day. I actually read most of it in a single sitting, on my flight back home from Dallas, but when we had to get off the plane I had to put it down for a while, and wait until the evening to finish it.
I knew from the very first line this book was going to break my heart, and boy, did it hurt so good.
THE FIVE STAGES tells the story of Drew, who survived the accident that killed his parents and little sister, but never left the hospital afterwards. Instead he's created a new identity for himself, working in the hospital cafeteria and sleeping in an abandoned wing of the building at night. He tells himself he's trying to be invisible, but it's impossible not to see the new family he's made for himself: his boss at the cafeteria, the nurses he's befriended, the two teenagers in cancer treatment that he hangs out with.
When a boy comes in who was set on fire - literally - for being gay, Drew's drawn to him, and begins to risk more and more to be around him, to help him out of his own pain. Drew's drowning in pain himself, and Shaun David Hutchinson captures the agony of survivor's guilt and the horrendous ache of loss so perfectly it's breathtaking.
In his free time, Drew likes to draw, and THE FIVE STAGES has a page or two of his comic book - PATIENT F - after each chapter. Drew tells himself (and others) it's a story he's making up, but it's pretty clear the story is his own way of coping with his own hardships.
The tentative romance between Drew and Rusty is one of the most well-written ones I have seen in a long time, all the more for it being between two gay boys without ever treating it any differently than a heterosexual romance. Drew, especially, is comfortable in his own skin and rarely feels the need to comment on being gay at all, except as it relates to what Rusty endured.
THE FIVE STAGES has plenty of surprises in it, both heartwarming and heartwrenching, and the sprint to the ending was rough and visceral.
I would have liked the dénouement to go on a little longer; I like to linger at the end of a book, and this one wrapped up too quickly for me. Part of it was probably the comic at the end; they say a picture is worth a thousand words, but they certainly read a lot quicker, and I wasn't ready to be done. I wanted to stay in that world a little longer.
Thankfully, I can always revisit it.
I absolutely loved THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY. I'll have to check out Shaun David Hutchinson's other stuff.