Deadline by Chris Crutcher 2007
Greenwillow Books/Harper Collins
IQ "from my point of view, there is simply nothing like her. I know other kids feel the same way about people they're with, which is what makes life on earth interesting. I want to be here longer. I am aware that this might very well be the crowning glory of my life, as I am aware that I am very old if you count back from my end, rather than up from my birth. I think I am in love, and the idea of losing that love fills me with such deep longing I think I might disappear through the gym floor." Ben pg. 117
Ben Wolf has been diagnosed with a blood disease and given one year to live. He wants to make an impact on the world but that's awfully hard to do in small-town Trout, Idaho. He's a senior and he decides that he's not going to die without leaving his mark, at least on Trout. He's determined to learn as much as he can his senior year, challenge his teachers and even though he's the shortest, skinniest kid, he's fast so he's going out for football. He's also had his eye on the beautiful, 5 ft. 11 Dallas Suzuki and if he could just work up the courage to ask her....Ben has decided not to receive treatment for his disease, and he's keeping his diagnosis a secret which turns out to be much harder than he expected.
I think the difficulty in writing a book about a teen whose dying is in not sounding too preachy, too...rushed I suppose. Rushed as in 'hurry-this-teen-is-going-to-die-but-first-they-must-share-an-earth shattering-revelation-about-Carpe-Diem.' If that makes sense. Basically I feel like all these books are about teens realizing that they must live each day like it's their last, but this is the first book I've read where the main character is dying so I really can't say. It just seems to me that when writing that kind of book, the author wants to make sure he or she leaves big nuggets of wisdom about living your life to the fullest, appreciating family, etc. In Deadline I thought the author could have done a better job weaving in these tidbits of life advice in a more subtle, authentic (for teenagers) manner. Instead the author creates Hey-Soos who basically spouts vague bits of wisdom that are supposed to get Ben thinking and to draw his own conclusions. Ben's insights are revealing, but it feels too much like an easy way of throwing in lots of Important Lessons via dialogue. I would have rather seen these discussions been between Ben and a friend or family member. I also thought the whole Malcolm X thing was a bit overdone, I felt that I got beaten over the head about how complicated a man he was, but I have to remember there are people who completely hate Malcolm X or have never even heard of him.
All that being said, I appreciated reading about Ben's exploits as he tried to seize the day and I loved the ending. It seems wrong to say I loved it, but I liked that the author doesn't pull any tricks or throw in any twists. It wouldn't be a Chris Crutcher book if the main character wasn't a pain in the butt to narrow-minded teachers so of course Ben is focused on 'fighting the Man' (or the power or the system, whatever you want to call it). I really admired Ben for not seeking treatment and the fact that he remained so strong when death was so close. I would (am) be terrified out of my mind but I think if my family situation was like, I would have tried to keep it a secret too. The Rudy storyline was a rather shocking revelation although I had my suspicions, but I really hoped they were wrong. It's a storyline that could upset a lot of people, shoot it upset me, but the author kept a surprisingly neutral attitude about Rudy's whole plotline which was a wise move (I think because it could so easily be misconstrued).
Deadline is a painful tale that will force teenagers to confront the fact that we could die at any time, which is something that I personally don't like to think about. I wish the book had been less didactic in nature, the lessons are important but I felt the author was too heavy handed in spreading his message. I love that the main character is short and not ashamed of it, I love that he wants to go out with a girl who towers over him and I love that Dallas Suzuki has such a horrific, heartbreaking storyline and yet she is also a terrific, confident athlete. Her tragedy doesn't define her and neither does Ben's and that's awesome. I also firmly believe that Chris Crutcher has this magical ability to make seemingly random historical facts fit well with the story including Malcolm X and the Japanese concentration camps. I don't always agree with some of the sentiments expressed by the author through the characters (there seems to always be one super conservative character and one very liberal character with the main character being the happy medium) but I'm glad the sentiments are being expressed in such a thoughtful and oftentimes humorous way. There's a lot of football talk (plays, positions) that had me completely lost so if you're like me and know nothing about football, I don't think you'll really learn much. But if you already liked football, you will probably get a little more out of those parts!
Disclosure: Received from my Secret Santa Katie @ Bookishly Yours. Thank you!
PS Please, please, please donate money to relief organizations, specifically ones working to help Japan, such as the American Red Cross.