by Megan Bostic
The Short Story
Austin goes on a weekend of errands visiting different people in his life, and telling them how they should be living differently. Then he dies. (The book is called Never Eighteen, so this is not a spoiler.) Unlikeable protagonist and lack of character development sink what could have been an interesting book.
I couldn't help but notice...
the main character was really difficult to like. Austin is dying of cancer, but that wasn't enough to make him sympathetic. He was inexplicably self-righteous and hypocritical once he started visiting people. I think the message was supposed to be that people can overcome difficult things. But it came across more as Austin telling them to get over whatever was going on because at least they weren't dying of cancer. (If I had only been raped, I would move on and live my life. But I can't! I'm dying!) This would have worked better if the people he talked to were struggling with bad grades or pimples. But being abused, or raped, or addicted is a lot more complex than that and gave the whole story a feeling of being unrealistic and dismissive of real issues. It was like Austin couldn't understand that having to live with terrible things happening to you might be more difficult than dying from something bad. The fact that the people he visited mostly agreed was worse.
And I had some problems with more technical issues. The main one was that I didn't feel like I got to know any of the other characters. For a book that's only 200 pages, there really were too many people, and each gets maybe 8-10 pages. That wasn't enough time to develop anyone, and they felt like cameo appearances by stock characters. Girl in abusive relationship, kid with substance abuse problem, kid questioning his sexuality. At one point I thought about simply not finishing the book, but I was curious to see which other tropes would show up. The lack of characterization for anyone kept me from feeling anything in the story.
It wasn't all bad
- The cover is nice.
- There are a couple of nice moments where Austin faces some of his fears or does things he's always meant to. He also has a brief realization that he didn't know everything about his parents. (I was hoping it would turn into some character growth, but it didn't.) Too bad there wasn't more of that in the book.
The Big Three
Language: Regular swearing, including several f-words
Sex and Stuff: A couple of scenes that were more descriptive than necessary
Violence: a girl has bruises from her abusive boyfriend, some fist fighting
Just So You Know
I read an eARC of Never Eighteen courtesy of HMH Children's Books via NetGalley. Never Eighteen is now available.