Now he’s alive again.
Simple as that.
The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but he can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still 16 and everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too.
Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, then there are going to be a few more scars.
Oh well, you only live twice.
I don’t want to get aHEAD of myself (get it?), but let me just start by saying this was one of the best books I’ve read this year. In fact, I voted it as the second best book of 2014 so far at TYF. You’ve probably just read the description and are asking yourself: hmm, a book about a boy who dies, gets his head transplanted onto another body after five years, and comes back to life miraculously. Well, isn’t that something.
Oh yes, it is very much something. It is quite everything, really. Which may be one reason I loved the book so much. It’s a book about death and life and second chances. It’s a book about love and heartbreak and figuring out who you are. It’s a book about video games and best friends. But most importantly, it’s a book about being okay. That you will be okay. Really, there is nothing more you can ask for in a book about a head transplant.
When I initially heard that John Corey Whaley, Printz and Morris award-winning author of Where Things Come Back, was writing another novel, I squealed and jumped and high-fived (myself) and started counting down the months until its arrival. Where Things Come Back is one of my favorite YA novels of all time. It’s one of the most precious books on my bookshelf, although, truthfully, it’s usually on my bedside table since my bookshelf is like two feet too far and sometimes your favorite books just constantly need to be an arm’s length away. In case. You know what I’m talking about. Anyway, it’s a novel very dear to my heart. I still haven’t read anything like it, not even Noggin, and I’m grateful for that because it might take away what’s so special about it. So when I finally had a chance to read Noggin‘s synopsis I first thought: What? Well, that’s hmmm. Well, I guess you could. Maybe. I bet it’s special.
And it’s true, at first, I thought it sounded strange. And then it scared me. Because I thought, what if I don’t like a novel like that? After five minutes, I calmed myself down enough and decided I’d read it no matter what. Even if it did sound weird. I like weird. I love weird. And by the time the publication started rolling around the corner, I had already read Andrew Smith’s brilliantly weird novel Grasshopper Jungle, and so I was prepared to read what I thought would be the weirdest published novel of the year. (Spoiler alert: Grasshopper Jungle is still weirder).
What I found out when reading it is this: It’s not very weird at all.
Maybe you’re a reader who sort of avoids any sci-fi realism in contemporary novels. But if you see Noggin and don’t pick it up simply because it sounds really weird, well, let me tell you, it’s not weird at all. Sure, the cover might have a very bright blue background with a shiny Ken-like doll figure on it, whose head doesn’t fit the body right, and maybe the book is about a miraculous head transplant. But it’s not weird. Honestly. It’s not. Okay, maybe a little, but in its own logical way.
Truth be told, this was the most relatable book I’ve read this year. Yes, a book about a boy who dies and comes back to life with a new body is definitely the most relatable book this year. I’m not exactly sure why it hits me in the heart so well, but it might have something to do with my life when I read it. Noggin was released towards the end of my freshman year in college. I was busy with finals and last minute essays, but I needed Noggin. So I made room for it, and I’m so glad I did. When I entered college, I felt like I was left behind. Like everyone I knew had exactly what they wanted in life planned, found new friends, became new people, and yet, I was still stuck in my high school senior mode. I started watching life pass me by, and as much as I tried, I felt like I couldn’t catch up to what everyone else was already so comfortable with. I couldn’t accept change, that life was changing, and people were changing and I didn’t know how I could adapt myself to that. So when I read Noggin, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone.
Travis Coates dies from leukemia as a teenager. He says goodbye to his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend Cate. So when he comes back to life after five years, he realizes everyone has moved on with their lives, while he is still stuck at the age he died. 16. Now, he has to learn what happened in the last five years. The five years he didn’t exist. Now, he has to catch up. Which is kind of hard when your best friend is now in college and keeping a large secret from everyone, including himself. Which is also kind of hard when the only girl you have ever loved is getting engaged to another guy and now, she’s five years older than you. Travis Coates has a heavy load on his donor-body shoulders, but that doesn’t keep him from trying to get his life back to normal.
Ultimately, Travis’s story echoes each of our own. It echoes the times when we just can’t give up. When we don’t want to grow up and grow apart. It echoes our vulnerability to change but it also teaches us that life will go on. With or without us. And as scary as it is, sometimes all we can do is play catch up and hope that the people we love will still be by our side five years from now. This is what Noggin has taught me. And whenever I need a reminder, I’ll be sure to pick it up once more, just an arm’s length away.