“Except he and I know that some pain burrows so deep, no narcotic can ever soothe it. It’s etched on your bones. It hides in your marrow, like cancer. If the boy survives, the pain is a memory he won’t want.”
I think this is the type of novel that every teenager dealing with grief needs to read. I had a box of tissues beside me as I read and devoured the novel. Shaun David Hutchinson really knows how to hit you were it hurts. The novel was beautifully written and peppered with the protagonist’s graphic novel.
The story follows Andrew Brawley, a seventeen-year old boy whose family was killed in a car accident and who now lives in the hospital where they died. Andrew – Drew – slowly reveals that he is a missing child and people are searching for him. He has not left the hospital in almost a year and has befriended several nurses and sick kids. He has made a life for himself. All that is threatened when a boy is wheeled into the hospital, set on fire by bullies for being gay. Drew tries to protect the boy, Rusty, but that is hindered when Death seeks to take Rusty. Drew must stop Death before she steals Rusty, his sick friends, and himself.
Drew was a very complex character who is suffering through a very traumatic time in his life. He spends his days working in the cafeteria, hanging out with his friends Lexie and Trevor and hiding from Death, who is actually a social worker he believes is after him. He starts a friendship with Rusty and soon realises he would do anything to protect Rusty from Death and the outside world. He lives a very sad, quiet life and my heart really bled for him. The secondary characters were well-developed, from his friends, to the priest, to the nurses. I really enjoyed the inclusion of Death in the novel. Death’s real name is Michelle, who is a councillor in the hospital. Drew is convinced Death is after him as he was the sole survivor in a car crash that killed his parents and little sister. Andrew believes that he is living on borrowed time, which really shaped Drew’s character and affected each of his actions. Hutchinson treats Drew’s interactions with Death as very seriously and so the reader does, too.
The romance between Drew and Rusty was sweet, if a little rushed. Even so, I found it quite realistic in that they lean on each other through difficult times and see the other as a source of hope. Rusty sees Drew as a protector, of sorts. Rusty is terrified to return to the outside world, to the constant bullying and teasing. He wants to remain in the hospital, with Drew, forever. This is not a healthy act, but depicts the reality. Drew and Rusty must deal with their grief and terror in order to move on.
The other romance surrounds Drew’s best friends, Lexie and Trevor who are in love, but refuse to acknowledge their love for fear of death. Lexie and Trevor are both cancer patients whose days are numbered. Drew sets up a little date for them, which is perhaps the sweetest scene in the novel. As all novels that deal with cancer, death is always close behind. I cried non-stop during the last few chapters of the novel. Hutchinson is master at playing with his reader’s emotions.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book surrounds Drew’s graphic novel. Following the life of Patient X, a boring man with a boring life whose family was murdered by unknown assailants. He was kidnapped and gruesome experiments were conducted on him. He eventually escapes and spends his days hunting down the men on his list, while also trying to save his family by taking their souls and placing them in another body before they are murdered. The graphic novel is very important to the plot as it correlates with Drew’s family and how he is dealing with their grief. Drew sees versions of his family everywhere, much like Patient X does. It’s a great way to show the reader how Drew is coping with his grief, i.e. not at all. It also relates to the title of the book “the five stages.” The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Like Patient X, Drew goes through each of these stages as the reader is offered a first-hand experience though his journey of grief. It’s a powerful experience and emotionally realistic. I don’t think there will be any readers who do not feel with and for Drew. Hutchinson has done a fantastic job here.
The ending was so bittersweet. I cried and cried. It’s very uplifting and a great relief from the hardship of the rest of the novel. Shaun David Hutchinson has created a wonderful piece of fiction that will resonate with almost everyone who reads it. I look forward to reading his other works.
Buy the book here.