Book: Never Eighteen
Author: Megan Bostic
Age Range: 12 and up
Never Eighteen, as is implied by the title, is about a seventeen-year-old boy, Austin, who doesn't expect to live to see his 18th birthday. Megan Bostic parcels out the details slowly, in small references for alert readers (as when his best friend remarks on how he "could have" learned to drive rather than "could" learn to drive). Suspense over exactly what Austin's situation is keeps the reader guessing through most of the book, even as the broader situation is clear.
Despite the title, most of the text doesn't dwell on Austin's future or lack thereof. Instead, the story covers a single weekend during which Austin, assisted by his best friend Kaylee, follows a plan of action for making a difference in the time that he has. He visits various people, each of whom he believes is trapped in some way, and offers his help. He intersperses these visits with other activities, like visiting the county fair, and hiking to his favorite waterfall.
The whole sequence isn't completely plausible (the range of problems that the people in his life have, the range of activities that he undertakes in a short time, the notion that his Mom leaves him on his own to do it all, etc.). But it's still an engaging, almost metaphorical, journey, and nowhere near as sad as one would expect. Ultimately, there's a hopefulness to Austin that resonates with the reader, and makes Never Eighteen impossible to put down. I read it in a single sitting, with a few tears in my eyes at the end.
My only real problem with Never Eighteen was that I didn't find Austin (the first-person narrator) believable as a teenage boy. In fact, I spent the first several (short) chapters thinking that Austin was a girl. Yes, he talks about being in love with Kaylee. But I just figured that part of why he wouldn't tell Kaylee about his feeling was because she wasn't gay. It wasn't until a clear reference to an old girlfriend of Austin's who now had another boyfriend that I was sure that Austin was male. I'm not saying that a woman can't write plausibly from a male perspective, and vice versa. I just didn't find it quite successful here. I would be interested to hear feedback from male teen readers on their reactions to Austin.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Bostic's writing:
"Peggy nods and wears an expression that I've been witness to too much lately. Profound sadness. I've seen it at home, in the hallways at school, when I hang out with friends. I can't get used to it. And sometimes? It just plain pisses me off." (Page 35)
"This is my favorite hike, surrounded by trees and sky and soil. I've run into squirrels and marmots and even a black bear once. Nature has always been big for me, its raw beauty and magnificence. Sometimes I think about the trees and the mountains and how long they've been there. Much longer than I've been alive, and they'll be here long after I've gone. It makes you realize how small you are in the scheme of things, what little impact you have on the world. It's part of the reason why I'm doing what I'm doing this weekend, to make an impact. To know I might have made a difference, even if it was a small one." (Page 115)
Never Eighteen is a quick read, relatively light in tone for a book about dying. Austin draws the reader in from the first page. You wonder what's going on with him, and care what happens to him. And in truth (my quibbles about voice aside) he kind of made me want to be a better person. Teachers and librarians, I hope that this description gives you an idea of who to hand the book to.
Publisher: Graphia (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: January 17, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).