Deadline offers readers a scenario that’s been done a lot in teen lit and in film. Main character finds out he has a terminal illness and has only a short time left. He decides to make the most of whatever time he’s got, and learns more about what it means to live fully than most people who get to stick around for a whole lot longer. This is the deal for high school senior, Ben Wolf. A routine cross country physical turns up the worst possible news: a terminal blood disease. Ben makes the choice to keep the diagnosis to himself, partly because he’s sure it will send his mentally-ill mother over the edge, and partly because he doesn’t want to go through his last year known purely as “that guy who is going to die.” He’d rather pass the days he’s got making the football time, driving his hardass conservative civics teacher crazy, and winning the heart of Dallas Suzuki, the girl he’s always wanted.
While Chris Crutcher may be working with a theme that’s been done many times, Deadline never feels like a book you’ve read so many times before. You might be surprised by how funny a book this is. Ben meets his fate with as much humor as anyone possibly could. There are laughs in this book, lots of them, which is not something I had anticipated. Now I’ve read a lot of “teen girl with terminal illness” stories, and most of them didn’t make me laugh. Trained by said teen girl books, at first, I couldn’t get my head around Ben’s reaction to his situation. How did he not break down? Where were the tears, the anger, the shaking of fists, the curses? How could he just go to school and do regular teenage guy things? Well… because he had too many other things he wanted to do, and why waste time?
Deadline is a book that asks the question, “What would you do?” It made me think. It touched on issues that teens should have opinions about: racism, child abuse, mental illness, and the education system. I liked this book a great deal because it moved beyond the typical “young life cut tragically short” story. I liked it in spite of the fact that I knew before I started reading that the main character was going to die, and also in spite of the fact that there were very long football scenes written with a whole lot of sports lingo that made me feel like I was reading a book in Latin. Another reason to congratulate Crutcher is that Ben does not reach the temptingly simple conclusion that Life is Beautiful. Instead, he recognizes that “Planet Earth is a tough town,” and his one wish for those he leaves behind is to risk. Reading Deadline will require tissues, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll put it down feeling like you’ve read more about living than dying.
This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.