Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Year in the Death

Chris Crutcher remains one of my favorite authors of all time. His books are beloved by teens across the nation and astute adult readers looking for a story full of emotion, action, wit and intelligence will never be disappointed in a Crutcher novel. His quartet, Running Loose, Stotan, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, and Chinese Handcuffs, are Crutcher at the top of his game.

Every book since then has been great, but none have achieved the completeness of story, mastery of character ,and depth of emotion and realism as his first four novels. Which is not to criticize. All Chris Crutcher novels are worth the time taken to read them. Even a Crutcher novel not as good as the top four is still better than most of the books out there.

Deadline is good, not great, Crutcher, but still better than the majority of teen novels put to paper. Ben gets a disturbing medical report just before his senior year starts. He has been diagnosed with a rare blood disease that is too difficult to treat and he has less than a year to live.

Armed with this knowledge, Ben, a 120lb whippet-thin cross country runner turns out for the football team and steps up his efforts to date the elusive and athletic Dallas Suzuki. When Ben isn't cramming every drop of life in his quickly shortening one, he is searching for all the education he can get--these methods include tormenting his right-wing conservative civics teacher, consoling the town drunk (harboring a dark secret of his own), and trading therapeutic quips with his psychologist.

How does Ben manage to accomplish all this during his treatment for cancer? He doesn't. Take treatment, that is. Ben, a legal adult at 18, has exercised his doctor-patient privilege and refuses to tell his family, friends and teachers about his condition.

The conversational style will immediately hook readers. All the teens in Crutcher's books are articulate and inquisitive. Sometimes everyone, teachers and teens alike, are a bit glib, but the rat-a-tat style will get anyone past those snarky moments. There aren't too many authors, teen or adult, that write like Crutcher, but Gail Giles' most recent book, Right Behind You, has the same high octane pacing and conversation.

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