Book Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

This book had a weird premise, but it really impressed me in its execution. I laughed and cried all at once.

4/5 stars

cover noggin

Amazon description

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.

My Review

To be honest, I’ve had this book on my TBR shelf for what feels like two years. The premise was weird–it was just one of those books that I ended up owning and didn’t really feel like reading. But I wanted something light, and there wasn’t a lot of contemporary titles on my TBR shelf, so on a whim I picked this one up.

I loved Travis as a protagonist. His voice was strong and unique and moved the story along. He added humor while still making it clear that this was a story rooted in emotional turmoil. His desire to get his old life back was relatable–and heart-wrenching when the rest of the world had aged five years without him. My one complaint was that the story could be a little monologue heavy at times, especially in the middle.

The rest of the characters were simple, but they still felt real. I liked the conflicts each one of them provided, and there were a few honest surprises thrown in there that kept me interested as the story progressed. Hatton, Travis’s new best friend, was spazy in a very sophomore-in-high-school sort of way. I liked that Whaley made Travis be a sophomore–only sixteen–rather than the usual junior or senior that I see so often in books like this. It was different and added to the painful innocence of Travis’s emotions–and emphasized the age gap with this 21-year-old “former” friends.

I liked how Whaley managed the cancer element of this book. Travis “died” from cancer that destroyed his body but didn’t infect his head–meaning that the surgery could give him a healthy body and a new lease on life. Flashbacks to his life before and during the illness were touching. I definitely teared-up at points, and I was full-out sobbing at the end of the book (though they were happy-ish tears I guess).

The plot doesn’t focus that much on the actual surgery. There is not a lot of time (or really any time) spent explaining the mechanics of the procedure–which honestly was good, because any explanation they gave would only sound fake and make me snap out of the book. The publicity Travis earned did play a role in the plot, which I liked, as well as the touching relationship he developed with the only other person to survive this head-reattachment surgery.

Instead, the plot revolves around Travis’s former girlfriend and his continued obsession with her. Cate has moved on, finally recovered from the loss of her boyfriend, gone to college, and gotten engaged by the time Travis “comes back” from the dead. For Travis, however, it feels like no time has passed, and his feelings for Cate drive him to do ridiculous things in pursuit of reassembling his old life. (The plot also involves reconstructing other areas of his former life, especially his relationship with his old best friend Kyle, but the romance is the main driving force.) At times, his love for Cate was somewhat annoying–I just wanted him to move on already–but for the most part I understood that Travis could not go from being head-over-heels in love with Cate to being her friend immediately. I would have liked this book more if the plot had a somewhat wider focus, but the last scene perfectly resolved the issues I had with the romance, finishing the book on the strongest note possible.

I would recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a fresh contemporary read with an endearing male protagonist, a range of emotional and social conflicts, and subtle commentary on humanity’s struggle to beat death.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

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