I had the dream again. The one where I’m running. I don’t know what from or where to, but I’m scared, terrified really.
Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. But in the short time he has left there’s one thing he can do: He can try to help the people he loves live—even though he never will.
It’s probably hopeless.
But he has to try.
Tell Me More: I used to be a sickly kid, so stories about the terminally ill have always appealed to me because I could relate to them.
Selflessness, courage, compassion: all of these are traits that most people associate with the sick and dying. We laud them for their strength and sympathize with their challenges, but it’s clear that no one can really understand illness unless they are in its throes. Does that viewpoint change once we know someone is sick? Do we automatically afford them those traits once they’re stuck in a hospital bed? How fair are we really being to them?
The story itself is misleading: it opens with Austen Parker telling his mom he’s going out and meeting up with his best friend Kaylee. There is nothing to suggest that Austen is days away from dying. He banters with Kaylee as they drive around to see some of Austen’s current and ex-friends/girlfriends, and he tries to talk some sense into them. Reading his impassioned speeches, I was more than a little confused and skeptical. How are readers supposed to be sold on this kid who, for all intents and purposes, just seems to want to preach to people who hurt him/were hurt by him? If I had been one of the characters in the book, I probably would have just said “See you later” and closed the door. Furthermore, it seems strange that Kaylee doesn’t continue to ask Austen why she has to drive him around for a weekend. It doesn’t even have to be out of concern, just simple curiousity.
Despite the questions that the novel brings up, I enjoyed reading it. Never Eighteen made me reconsider how terminally ill kids and teens are viewed by society, and the expectations that we press onto them. I may not have understood why Austen wanted to spend his time trying to reconnect with people when he felt he was going to die, but I can’t begrudge him that opportunity. Call it cliche or maudlin or whatever you like–when was the last time you did something just because you wanted to? Or because you wanted to be a good person? I do wish that we had seen more of Austen’s struggle, because he doesn’t seem like the kind of kid to naturally decide to journey on like this, but I admire his tenacity. He made his story worth reading.
That’s Not All:
- Unrequited love! I won’t lie, I cried over Austen and the way he pined over Kaylee. Though I would definitely tell him to just confess–he’s taken risks, this is just one more.
The Final Say: A sweet nugget of a book, Never Eighteen will leave readers reflecting on their own mortality and time with loved ones.