Friday, April 11, 2014

Second Chances

John Corey Whaley

John Corey Whaley, the author of Noggin, says the outlandish premise of his latest novel--a transplantation of a full cranial structure onto a donor body--began with Kurt Vonnegut.

"What is it about him that I'm able to connect with so much?" Whaley said of Kurt Vonnegut when we got to interview him recently. "He's able to take absurd ideas and scenarios, and you can be laughing hysterically on one page, and he'll bring you to tears on the next."

The idea of scientific advances allowing doctors to cryogenically freeze someone's head and surgically affix it to a healthy donor's body may be something akin to what Vonnegut might create, but, like Vonnegut, Whaley grounds the story in authentic emotional experience. Travis essentially falls asleep and wakes up five years later. But the people he cares about have lived on, gathering life experiences. "That was the most realistic way I could re-create the way people feel their friends and family are growing up a little faster than they are," Whaley said. "A lot of life is people moving faster than we are, and us moving faster than others."

Travis is 16 when he goes to sleep, and his friends are 21 when he wakes up. He has a second chance at life, but does he want it, if he can't be with Cate, who is now engaged to someone else, and his best friend, Kyle, who has retreated back into a life of denial? Whaley gets to the core of growing up through his exploration of Travis's dilemma. Travis wants to win Cate back. But in those five years, Cate had fully grieved and accepted the loss of Travis in her life. Travis and Kyle are able to restore their friendship, but Travis's desire to recreate the romantic relationship he'd had with Cate remains problematic.

Travis must ask himself, how do I go on from here, with this new reality? Is it worth it to get a second chance if I cannot have the people I want in my life the way they were? Travis quickly learns that his return does not come with an automatic reset button. It means working on these relationships--with his parents, with Cate, with Kyle, and with his new friend Hatton. How do you stay true to yourself yet still honor that relationship, either as it is now, or what it once meant to you? Is it possible to do? How much compromise is possible without losing your self?

At a pivotal time, when teens are becoming adults and trying on new personas and/or deepening their beliefs, their relationships are shifting. Whaley captures all of these nuances with humor, compassion and unforgettable characters.

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