Noggin by John Corey Whaley

4.5 stars

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. 
Yes I loved Noggin, but that isn't really sufficient to explain my reactions to it. Thankfully I don't feel frustrated and bewildered as I did with Whaley's  Where Things Come Back, but the writing is equally stellar. 

Travis Coates, a 16 year old boy, came back from the dead. While dying of cancer, he opted to have his head removed and cryogenically frozen. Five years later his head was joined to a body, and he returned to the land of the living. 

When he wakes up, Travis feels like he has just had a nap, and expects everyone and everything to be exactly the same as it was. Unfortunately, everyone else has had five years to grieve and get on with their lives. A lot has changed.

This book doesn't have a lot of action. It doesn't have adventure in a traditional sense. It's just the story of a sixteen year old boy, trying to make sense of a life where everything has changed overnight. I don't think this is a problem, but I can see that this will deter some readers. 

At times I wanted the story to move more quickly. There were also times when I wanted to challenge the science and got caught up imagining the real issues that might ensue from such an endeavour. 

But here's the thing, in spite of how bizarre this scenario is, Whaley made me believe in it. 

Change happens to all of us. 
Adolescence is challenging at the best of times. We are forced to deal with a body that sometimes doesn't feel like our own. Relationships with friends and family evolve, mature and sometimes, disappear. 
Then we grow up, move away from our homes, and come back to find ourselves and the people we knew changed again. 
Sometimes change is more profound. A close friend of mine had a traumatic brain injury. As she adjusted she confided, "It's like you wake up one day to find the world is completely different, and you are a not the person you were before." 
All of this is Travis Coates' experience. So while this scenario is fantastic, what Travis has to deal with is almost ordinary. 

Whaley's gift is in his ability to create characters so real you can imagine them living next door to you. I came to care deeply for them. Their interactions with each other feel natural and reasonable. This is how people are with each other. Whaley made me believe so truly in them, that all my other quibbles with the book are irrelevant. 

The power in Whaley's writing in Noggin, is that it puts the reader in the position where we are forced to think more deeply about the ordinariness of our own lives. We can't help but come out the other side without a shift in our awareness. 

Maybe the word for how I feel is transformed.

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