Noggin by John Corey Whaley

nogginBoy, was this good. I thought the premise (and cover) seemed like this would just be a funny concept mined for laughs, but it was really thoughtful in a way I enjoyed. I shouldn’t have been surprised-Whaley won the Printz and is a proven excellent writer. At 16 Travis is almost dead of cancer. He decides to volunteer for an experimental scientific project and, right before he dies, he has his head cut off and cryogenically frozen.  The idea is that in a few decades perhaps his head can be reattached to a body or a robot and reanimated. Travis doesn’t really expect it to work, but he certainly has nothing to lose. So he’s quite surprised when he wakes up and is alive and healthy again. It worked! But instead of hovercrafts and elderly parents, it turns out scientific advancements were quicker than expected and it is only five years later. His head (and mind and memories and everything) has been attached to a body that belonged to a teenager with a brain tumor. The world heralds him as a miracle and reporters and photographers are fascinated, as is everyone who sees and recognizes him. (The procedure only worked on one other person, so it’s not commonplace.)
What’s so interesting is that if you’ve ever had someone you love die you know how much you wish they could come back. The people close to Travis-his mom and dad, his best friend, and his loving girlfriend, certainly did. And they are definitely happy he is returned. But… there’s an unexpected downside to all this and here’s where I thought it was interestingly handled.  Travis is still 16 and goes to high school, but his friend and girlfriend have moved on and are grown-ups now. They work, go to college, and his girlfriend is now engaged. They love him and are happy he’s back, but…how does he fit in with their lives now? The girlfriend aspect is especially hard for Travis as it feels to him like no more time has passed than a night’s sleep-he’s still in love with her, they truly were soul mates, and he’s troubled that she doesn’t run into his arms.
I really liked this a lot-funny, sweet, unexpectedly sad (I thought), and though provoking. A standout.


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