I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Also by this author: Highly Illogical Behavior
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers on 2014-04-08
Genres: Family, Friendship, Parents, Science Fiction, Social Issues, Young Adult
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Travis Coates has a good head...on someone else’s shoulders. A touching, hilarious, and wholly original coming-of-age story from John Corey Whaley, author of the Printz and Morris Award–winning Where Things Come Back.Listen—Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.Now he’s alive again.Simple as that. The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but Travis can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still sixteen, but everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too. Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, there are going to be a few more scars. Oh well, you only live twice.
By all accounts and purposes, I probably shouldn’t like Noggin by John Corey Whaley. I am one of those people that occasionally has a hard time with weird concepts. The premise of Noggin is that Travis Coates has his head cryogenically frozen and wakes up five years later attached to the body of Jeremy Pratt and has to adjust to the future where everyone is five years older than him and he’s still sixteen. I mean, I requested Whaley’s latest because Where Things Come Back was brilliant and I was curious if lightning would strike twice. AND IT DID. Friends, Whaley takes what is a super weird topic and makes it kind of normal. This is a book where the only odd thing is Travis’s head on someone else’s body, otherwise, it reads like a contemporary book. It’s got the heart and the trademark highlight it writing that I think we’ll all end up seeing as hallmarks of John Corey Whaley’s writing.
I kind of explained the plot or premise of Noggin by John Corey Whaley above, but that’s not totally going in depth. So here we go. Travis Coates has suffered an awful bout with cancer. His body is essentially dying. Fraught with worry, his family takes the best chance they can at keeping Travis alive, having his head cryogenically frozen and then later reattaching it to a body that does not have cancer. Travis is one of seventeen patients who try this new treatment. Only two of those patients survive, him and this guy named Lawrence who had been reattached and woken six months ago. Unfortunately for Travis, when he is unfrozen, it is five years into the future. His best friend, Kyle is in college. His girlfriend, Cate has moved on and is engaged to another guy. His parents are older, and worst of all, he has to go back to school. And so, the plot of Noggin is about Travis adjusting while everyone else has moved forward. It’s about Travis trying to win Cate back. It’s about Travis trying to get Kyle to acknowledge that he is gay and to come out of the closet. It’s about Travis making a new friend at school, Hatton. Really, ultimately it’s about catching up when you’ve been left behind, so to speak. And you guys, the journey that John Corey Whaley takes us on is moving.
Travis Coates is an endearing character. I will admit, I laughed out loud at the scene where he’s learning about his new body and um, comparing his new equipment to his old equipment. It is hilarious. There was a lot of opportunity to make Travis a creepy stalker nice guy type, given his obsession with Cate, but instead he comes across as this earnest kid who really honestly developmentally in his brain hasn’t quite come to the maturity of his 21 year old friends, Kyle and Cate. I liked that Travis did not see himself as a hero or as inspiring even though technically he has come back from the dead. I liked that he didn’t have all the answers but was just doing his best in a world that’s moved on beyond him. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what it is that I loved so much about Travis, but his character is really multilayered and I think that if that’s your jam, you’ll be down for Noggin.
Those of you who are into romance, well, let’s just say this might not totally be your thing. The only swoons are in flashback memory sequences. Otherwise, Travis is kind of creepy. Like, Cate has moved on, but he still thinks he can win her back. He still thinks of her as his girlfriend. However as a 26 year old, I kind of read that is no way in hell will she go back to him. Cate is 21 and you know, a 21 year old is going to think differently than a 16 year old and have different interests. They are at different places in life and while that sucks for Travis, it is what it is. Honestly, if I could give this romance a theme song, it would be Let Her Go by Passenger because basically I was like Travis, let it go, she’s not yours anymore, man. You are just embarrassing yourself. But, ah, the way Whaley writes this is brilliant.
Really though, if you are someone that lives for the words and the writing you are going to love Noggin. John Corey Whaley’s sophomore novel has this fantastic interplay between characters. I loved the conversations, interactions, and connections. I loved how the friendship between Travis and Hatton built. I loved Hatton’s courage and brass balls. I loved Kyle’s complexity when it comes to being closeted. I loved Cate’s conflicting emotions. I loved how Whaley drew Travis’s family, especially the dynamic between his mother and father and this big review. I loved how Whaley wrote about nostalgia and how it leaves you feeling empty afterwards and just how that is such a truism. I don’t know if he made that up or not, but it was the first time I’ve encountered that idea and it just totally resonated with me. There’s some big ideas in Noggin by John Corey Whaley. It’s a smart book that resonated with me, I cannot recommend this book enough.