What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Noggin is the second novel by award-winning young adult author John Corey Whaley. Unlike his first novel, Where Things Come Back, this one has a straightforward, singular narrative that mixes contemporary, realistic teen fiction with science fiction (a dying teen's head is cryogenically frozen and reanimated five years later by being attached to another young man's decapitated body). There's occasional strong language (including "a--hole," "s--t," and "f--k") and references to sex (although the protagonist doesn't have it), virginity, masturbation, and penis size, but this is still a unique coming-of-age story that's appropriate for younger teens and should appeal to both boy and girl readers.
What's the story?
When he was 16, Travis Coates was dying of cancer, so he and his desperate parents agreed to something unthinkable: an experimental procedure to have his head (the only cancer-free part of him) surgically removed and cryogenically frozen until science advanced enough for the team to attach his head to another person's healthy, yet decapitated, body. Five years after his temporary death, he's reanimated sooner than anyone expected and attached to the much stronger body of Jeremy Pratt, another terminal cancer patient, who had brain cancer but a strong and muscular body. Travis emerges from his five "frozen" years still in the body and the mind of a 16-year-old, but the rest of the world, including his long-suffering parents, best friend Kyle, and girlfriend Cate are now five years older with a half-decade of experiences that Travis isn't a part of and can't understand, particularly now that Cate's engaged to be married.
Is it any good?
It's difficult to read second novels from outstanding debut authors; readers understandably believe that the sophomore effort can't be nearly as good as the first. But John Corey Whaley joins the ranks of esteemed writers such as Melina Marchetta, Rainbow Rowell, Andrew Smith, and Patrick Ness -- all YA authors who proved they were not one-hit wonders. Whaley once again focuses on a male protagonist going through a crisis readers can't personally relate to but will still empathize with because of his layered, emotional journey. Travis Coates is an ordinary teen going through something so extraordinary only one other person in the world -- a thirtysomething dad named Lawrence (the only other reanimated man to survive) -- has experienced. But we're right there with Travis as he adjusts to (and revels in) his awesome new body, gets reacquainted with his parents and his best friend Kyle (now a closeted gay college student), and misguidedly tries to win Cate back as his true love.
Whaley's such a talented writer, he deserves a bigger readership. His books are about complicated characters, but his language is crisp and easy to follow (and often hilarious). Travis' story doesn't have a pat ending that will satisfy readers looking for high romance or happily-ever-afters. But teens (and parents) looking for a compelling read about a future medical possibility that doesn't seem all that far-fetched will be rewarded with rich characterization, teen humor, heartache, and a valuable lesson that happiness doesn't always mean getting everything you want but rather enjoying the healthy life you have to live.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about why books about dying teens are so prevalent in young adult literature. How is this one different?
Discuss how time changes the prospects of Travis' romantic relationship with Cate. When is a five-year age difference inappropriate? Why does that age difference matter in adolescence but not later in life? Is it understandable how single-minded Travis is about Cate, or does his behavior border on stalking?
Talk about the way Travis' parents are depicted. Is it believable that their marriage was unable to withstand their son's semi-death? How are the parents more well-rounded than usual in a YA book?