Reviewed by Debby Kasbergen
When I was offered Noggin by John Corey Whaley for review, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. From the blurb it just sounded unique and sort of weird. With the head cut off element, I thought it would be a bizarre kind of sci-fi, but nope. This book surprised me in the best possible way.
Noggin is actually sort of a cancer book. It centers on Travis Coates who, indeed, has his head cut off – but for a medical reason. He had a terminal form of cancer that had destroyed his body – except for his head. Knowing he had no other options, he consented to participate in a new medical procedure. His head would be cut off and cryogenically frozen until such time as technology had advanced enough to allow him to survive reattachment to another body. He first expects that he would wake up far in the future, but instead he wakes up 5 years later: just long enough for his family, girlfriend and friends to have moved on, but not long enough for him to be able to let them go entirely, as for him no time has passed at all.
I honestly was not expecting that kind of story from the blurb, but it just instantly drew me in. I’m not the type of person who often goes for sickness or grief stories, because I find it hard to connect. But here the connection was instantaneous, mostly because Travis has such a refreshing voice. It was really fluid and easy to understand his thoughts, to be drawn into his mind and sympathize with his story. He has a wry kind of humor that pops out at just the right times and puts a smirk on your face despite his circumstances.
So the book tells Travis’s story of coming back to life with much fanfare to the world as a medical miracle interspersed with flashbacks to show how his former life ended. Tons of emotions abound. Honestly, there were moments when I had tears in my eyes because of the beautiful bond Travis had with his family, his girlfriend Cate, and his best friend, Kyle. This book is mostly about the relationships between these characters, all of which are rather strained because of the circumstances. Everyone wants to move on, but nobody really knows how. Strangely there’s no handbook on what to do when your son/(ex-)boyfriend/best friend comes back to life. And slowly it becomes obvious just how big of an effect Travis’s presence (and absence) has on all of them. I really felt touched by their stories and basically loved all of the characters, including Travis’s new friend, Hatton. Their relationships are beautiful, and they all give each other the reality checks they need.
I was seriously enjoying this and was super engrossed, but in my opinion, the story trailed off in the end. I didn’t feel like the ending was that strong, and I was rather frustrated with Travis and some of the choices he made. While it sort of fit the trend of his desperation and clinging to his former life, I would have liked to see more growth. However, I can also imagine that this is a more realistic take on how someone in such a situation would truly react.
Ultimately, Noggin is a really unique take on a cancer aftermath story. It’s a book that really makes you think about your own life, choices and relationships, and about the passage of time. When I finished, I felt sort of fragile. I needed to just lie in bed for a while and digest – and it’s very rare that a book has that kind of effect on me. So while I didn’t feel like the ending was that strong, it did leave a mark on me as a reader. And that is excellent. For what it’s worth, I think this would be a brilliant book for a book club, because it definitely fosters discussion.
Summing Up: This is a strange little book, but I cannot stress enough how glad I am that it found its way into my hands. While it’s a story that’s a bit out of my comfort zone, it worked out extremely well. I loved this unique premise, with its awesome characters, beautiful relationships, and refreshing voice. It’s a book that will linger on in your mind for days. And personally, I’m betting it will beg me for a reread at some point.
Recommended To: Fans of character-driven stories dealing with the consequences of life and death, and/or, potentially, fans of The Fault in Our Stars.
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