Austin Parker is seventeen, and he’s dying of cancer. At the rate he’s going, he won’t live to see eighteen. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid. Over the course of one weekend, with the help of his best friend Kaylee, Austin reaches out to the people in his life and tries to help them fix their problems and see the beauty in life.
Megan Bostic’s debut novel has an interesting concept, but it falls short in delivery. A plot full of cliches, flat characters, and overly-simplistic prose make this a read that’s easily forgotten. It lacks any emotional impact despite its heavy topics. Readers, I really didn’t enjoy this one.
The majority of the problems with Bostic’s novel stem from its characters. Austin himself is a narrator almost completely devoid of personality (he makes a few jokes about dying). Because the majority of the book takes place over a couple of days, readers are dropped right into the middle of his sickness and are given almost no information about who Austin is or what he was like before he got sick. More than once, I wondered if he was a bit of a bully, but this is never expanded upon or explored. With no emotional connection to the story’s protagonist, caring about the other characters is difficult. Unfortunately, most of the other characters fall into pat stereotypes and make such brief appearances that it doesn’t even matter. The only other character who has a lot of page time is Austin’s best friend and love interest Kaylee, but her voice is virtually indistinguishable from Austin’s and she isn’t given anything to do except sulk, be unaware of how pretty she is, and drive Austin around as he completes his mini-missions. There’s no sense of who either of these characters are, and in a novel that’s all about fulfilling the last wishes of a kid who’s dying, isn’t that sort of the point?
Over the course of the weekend, Austin visits with people who are important to him. These conversations are supposed to be insightful, emotional, and poignant, but they’re not, really. In addition to being really, really short, we’re given almost no information about the characters Austin visits before he visits them. This is, I think, intentional. We’re supposed to uncover the secrets and insights that Austin has about these characters as they discuss these things, but it doesn’t work the way I think Bostic intended it. Instead of being a smart way of providing exposition, the dialogue is stilted, clunky, and hollow.
The bottom line is that this book didn’t work for me as a reader. I felt numb to Austin’s plight, and that made me a completely unsympathetic reader. Bostic’s prose left me cold, as did her flat characters. There are readers out there who will resonate with this book, but I wasn’t one of them.
Never Eighteen will be released on January 12.
Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic. Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.