Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

May 22, 2014 Reviews 12 ★★★★★

Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Published by Atheneum Books For Young Readers on April 8, 2014
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 356
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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 he 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 16 and 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, then there are going to be a few more scars.

Oh well, you only live twice.

Loved, loved, loved.   I’m glad that Noggin is getting great reviews on Goodreads, because I think people who might be inclined to love this book may overlook it due to the wonderfully bizarre cover.  The cover screams, “This book is quirky,” but in reality, Noggin is thoughtful and heart-warming and heart-breaking.  There’s actually nothing quirky about it.  Yes, a cancer-stricken boy has his head removed, frozen, and transplanted five years later onto another body.  But while the cover and the oddly snarky synopsis (odd, because it does not match the tone of the book AT ALL) point to a story filled with weirdness, the transplant procedure is treated as a miraculous but plausible medical procedure.

Travis was sixteen and dying of cancer when  he and his parents agreed to a radical experiment: remove his head and pray that somewhere down the road, medicine will have evolved to allow for head transplants.  Faced with his certain death, a possible head transplant seemed like a reasonable gamble.  Travis had nothing left to lose, and his parents hoped for the slim chance that they may live long enough to one day see their son “reborn.”  But science progressed much faster than they could have possibly imagined, and five years after his decapitation, Travis awoke in a hospital with his head attached to a new body.

As I’m typing this, I realize how wacky it sounds.  But trust me, once this bit of background is established, the story remains firmly in the contemporary genre and John Green-ish in tone.  When Travis awakens, he has no idea that five years have passed.  For him, his last memory was of agreeing to the procedure and saying goodbye (hopefully not for forever) to his family, girlfriend, and friends.  During that time, his parents alternately mourned and held onto a kernel of hope.  His girlfriend and friends graduated high school and moved onto the next phase of their lives, while he is still sixteen years old.

You’d think that if you were in Travis’s shoes, or…er…his head, that all of your loved ones would be overjoyed at your miraculous re-awakening.  Not surprisingly, his parents’ reactions are the least complicated.  But his girlfriend, Cate, is now twenty-one, and she has already mourned Travis’s “death.”  For Travis, however, they were a couple the last time he closed his eyes.  This relationship, and the twists and turns it takes as Travis tries to reconnect with Cate, forms the heart of Noggin.  At times, Travis’s behavior is ridiculous, but it is also completely understandable as he tries to find his place in this new world.  Even when I wanted to shake Travis for being so hard-headed (last head joke, I promise), it’s impossible not to sympathize with him and to root for him.  It’s also impossible not to think about the fact that even though science can be wondrous, humans have limitations in what we can accept.


12 Responses to “Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley”

    • Stephanie

      Thanks, Abbe! It was a good thing I heard the raves first, because this cover might not have persuaded me to read it.

    • Stephanie

      I hope you read it soon, Joy! I’d feel comfortable recommending this to anyone.

    • Stephanie

      The book doesn’t get too “science-y,” which I think is a good thing. It’s just sort of accepted that the procedure is newly possible, and it moves on from there.

    • Stephanie

      Oh, you’re going to have to read TFIOS, at least, now that the movie is such a big hit! 🙂

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