Deadline by Chris Crutcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Eighteen-year-old Ben Wolf has a terminal illness--this he tells us right off the bat. But when will he tell the rest of his friends, family, and his amazing new girlfriend? In his quest for a "normal" year, Ben has the least normal year of his life. And Chris Crutcher is kind enough to share that year with us through Ben's voice.
Don't let Crutcher's glib dialogue and Ben's smart-aleck comments deceive you. This is a heavy topic. But as I heard Crutcher say in a keynote address to the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators not long ago, if you as a writer are going down the tragic road, you've got to go just as long down the comic road--and thankfully, he does just that. Through Ben, we get to know a cast of small-town characters, each with his or her own secrets, some as heavy as Ben's. How could you not love Ben's long-suffering father, who lovingly cares for his bipolar wife? Or Coach Banks, who has returned to this podunk high school after fleeing it years before? Or Rudy McCoy, so haunted by his past that only Ben really comes to know who he is? This is not an author given to lovingly crafted sentences, but one who writes people who live and breathe and sing off the page. Is this a sad novel? I shed tears, but it didn't depress me. It reaffirms life and love. We should all be so lucky.
Maybe you've heard that all of Crutcher's books have been banned or challenged, and Deadline is no exception. For those of you with delicate ears, be on the lookout for the f-word and the s-word. They do appear. There is some premarital teen sex presented about as pristinely as you could hope for. And yes, sorry, but teens do utter opinions in this book that may offend some conservative, pledge-allegiance-to-me sensibilities. You've been warned. But unlike some other reviewers, I didn't find this book to be a political tract. To me, it was about a boy who, having nothing left to lose, finally lives. So much of the time, we stifle the opinions of young people. We discard them, slough them off, silence them. Ben Wolf is not to be silenced. God bless him for that.
One other point: The book's got a lot of football in it. I don't know anything about football and don't want to. I have no interest in the Super Bowl or even the commercials that air during the breaks. And yet, I found even the footbally parts of this book compelling. And anyone who knows me knows that only a very gifted writer could persuade me to read anything about this sport, much less make it compelling.
Read the first chapter. Then see if you can put the book away. Go on, I dare you.
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