I am a huge fan of grief-driven books. I know that’s kind of a weird quirk, but I just feel sort of a special connection to those characters who are in so much pain because of loss, even though I have been incredibly lucky in life to not have experienced real loss like that. And so, Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft really appealed to me on this basic level — it’s about a boy named Jonathan who is grieving the loss of his twin brother Telemachus, or Telly. I thought that Adios, Nirvana was a sophisticated sort of YA grief book that might appeal to people who are more into the literary end of the YA spectrum.
Adios, Nirvana opens with main character Jonathan, drunk off some vodka grapes (can I get in on this action) pissing off of an icy bridge. Jonathan is losing it because he can’t handle the death of his brother and that sucks because he had promise. You see, last year he won Best Young Poet. Also, he was pretty damn good at guitar. Now, he doesn’t really show up to school and might fail his junior year. HOWEVER, a few people in his life come together to help him pass — the principal, his English teacher and his group of BFFs called Thicks. The principal asks Jonathan, who has a way with words, to write the life story of David who is a World War II veteran and dying. OH AND TO ADD INSULT TO INJURY the principal is all like, hey Jonathan why don’t you play this stupid-ass song at graduation with this celebrity guitar. Y’all, there’s a lot going on in Adios, Nirvana and it’s kind of a slim book, but I never felt like the focus was too loose or confused at what was going on. Instead, I thought that Conrad Wesselhoeft masterfully balanced the various elements of Jonathan’s tale.
Chances are if you read a lot of male-fronted YA, you’ve met characters like Jonathan before. He’s your quintessential angry young man, where his surliness comes from a place of deep hurting. However, even though I’ve read characters like Jonathan, I still thought he came across as well-written. Jonathan is a poet and the poetry provided within the book shows us glimpses into his psyche. I have to say that it’s not that annoying sort of teen poetry, but the type that reminds me of the beats — like Allen Ginsberg. And I liked that sort of sophistication. I like that we see Jonathan as a character who really has no drive and no hope. I like that we see a sort of transformation come over Jonathan where he sees that yes, he may have lost a brother but he does not need to stop living life. He does not need to go through everything alone. I just, I thought he was very well characterized.
If you don’t like your reads literary and maybe a tiny bit pretentious, chances are you’ll dislike Adios, Nirvana. I, on the other hand, thought it was kind of a refreshing change. I liked how it was written. I liked that this book had multiple layers to it. I loved the various pieces of imagery, especially the imagery within Jonathan’s poems. His poems, FYI, aren’t the annoying rhyming teenager kind, but free verse with sort of a beat flavor. I loved reading those parts.
In all, I’d say Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft is a GREAT book for a specific audience — I really think teenage male readers, the smart ones at least, will like this book. Obviously females can read and like this book too, hello I am female and enjoyed it. If you’re looking to read a moving story about getting past deep pain and picking the pieces up, read Adios, Nirvana. It’s definitely an underrated book that is deserving of more attention.
Disclosure: Received for review on Netgalley and at BEA 2010, so forever ago but hey at least I actually ended up reading and reviewing rather than tossing.
Other reviews of Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft:
The Book Swarm – “raw, powerful and heartbreaking”
The Grammarian’s Reviews – “a whirlwind of good characters, descriptions, and writing”