Thursday, August 25, 2011
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Your doctor tells you that you have one year to live. What do you do?
For high school senior Ben Wolff the decision is to do nothing. Or at least nothing to try to stop the disease. While his prognosis is very grim, there is a treatment option. It is most likely he will live a miserable year and then die anyway. So he opts for the do nothing treatment so he can have one very good – and what he calls one “normal” -- year. He also chooses to tell no one. No family, no friends. Being eighteen he has the legal right to instruct his doctor (an old friend of the family in his small Idaho town) to follow his instructions. But maybe when you're dying there is no such thing as normal?
While Ben does nothing to try to survive, he does everything to try to live. Suddenly, life has new meaning. As he says, knowing you’re dying makes you brave. He’s a short, skinny cross-country runner at his school. He immediately drops running and joins the football team, knowing full well that given his size, it could get him killed. But so what?
Ben’s newfound bravery goes far beyond football. He asks out Dallas Suzuki, the girl of his dreams, whom he never believed would give him the time of day. Before he knows it, they’re dating, and Ben’s (short) life could not be better. He also discovers a deep political calling. Ben is a reader; in fact, many of the males in this book are readers, which is something almost unheard of in YA literature. Throughout the book he’s reading (and re-reading) The Autobiography of Malcolm X (a book that I also happen to love). Having to do a “civics” project for his government class, he decides he will survey the people of his very conservative town to try to get them to name a street Malcolm X Avenue. His teacher, who espouses his own politically conservative views in class, will not allow Ben to do this project, saying he will make the people of their town look racist. He tells Ben that he could fail the class and not be allowed to graduate. Needless to say, Ben doesn’t care; he’s not expecting to be alive to graduate.
All of this is absolutely marvelous. Chris Crutcher is one the most respected young adult authors for a very good reason. He writes outstanding books that speak to adolescents and young adults in unique ways. His characters live and breathe and his stories are not all sweet and happy. And one of the characters in this book is "Hey-Soos," who Ben talks to (in his dreams?) about life and death. Check out some of Crutcher's other books, such as Whale Talk, Staying Fat for Sarah Burns, and his collection of short stories, Athletic Shorts. Like Deadline, most of his stories involve sports and all of them give readers so much to think about. As Ben says in Deadline, “Planet Earth is a tough town.”
While some of the characters in Deadline come off a bit clichéd, this does not diminish the quality of the book or the enjoyment of the story. This is a book to be savored and a book that so many boys really will get lost in. Once I started the book I did not want to stop. One sign of a good book is that you have no idea which path the author will lead you down. In a book like Deadline, there are so many paths Crutcher could have selected, and a lesser writer would have chosen the obvious and ordinary paths. But there is nothing obvious or ordinary about Deadline. It’s just a terrific book.