“Deadline” by Chris Crutcher

05 Nov


Author Chris Crutcher has visited the seemingly unrelated themes of death and censorship in his previous novel, "The Sledding Hill." If you were a fan of that book — or if you're just intrigued by a story detailing one year in the life of a teen who has a terminal blood disease — then you should definitely check out "Deadline."

Although the idea behind "Deadline" might sound morbid, the book is not depressing at all. It's actually pretty funny, touching, and even uplifting. Surprising, right? Ok, so we start out right away learning that Ben Wolf is going to die. Ben's a senior in Trout, Idaho, a small town with an even smaller high school. When Ben learns his diagnosis after taking a blood test for the cross-country team, he decides to keep the news to himself. Since Ben is 18 and thus a legal adult, the doctor has no choice but to agree to maintain Ben's secret. Ben also decides to reject all treatment for his illness, as he doesn't want to spend his last few months bald, sick, and miserable. Instead, Ben vows to squeeze all the life out of his remaining time, even going out for the football team. This is a big deal because (a) Ben is really small (123 pounds), and (b) his stronger, taller, slightly younger brother Cody — who's actually in the same class as Ben — is the team's star quarterback.

Besides football, Ben also wants to win over Dallas Suzuki, the very tall, smart, half-Asian volleyball player in his class. Ben is shocked (in a good way!) to even get a date with Dallas, although Ben soon learns that his dream girl is keeping some heavy secrets of her own. That's actually a big theme of the book, that keeping secrets, lying to yourself and others, destroys everything. Ben sees this firsthand when he befriends Rudy McCoy, the night caretaker at a local auto shop. Most folks see Rudy as nothing more than the town drunk, but Ben discovers he's a whole lot more.

Aside from the football action, which dominates the first half of the book, we also regularly see Ben in Mr. Lambeer's current events class. Ben challenges nearly every statement his conservative, close-minded teacher presents to the class. See, Ben has been reading "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," and he's figuring out that you can't just accept everything at face value. Since he knows he won't live much longer, Ben wants to push his classmates and his teacher to question the beliefs they've always held. Along these lines — and despite great resistance from the town and school — Ben decides as a class project to start a petition seeking to name a street in Trout after Malcolm. If nothing else, Ben figures the failure of the project might help the town confront its own prejudices.

What works really well here? It's the relationships that form the center of this story. Ben and Cody are such terrific friends, even beyond the bounds of brotherhood. They support each other in football, school, and at home, and it's nice to see a realistic depiction of brothers who genuinely like each other. There's also a great bond between Ben and his football coach / family friend, the understanding, fatherly Coach Banks. Coach is a believable mentor for Ben, as is, in his own broken-down, twisted way, the drunken Rudy. While the character of Dallas always seems like she's just a bit beyond the reader's reach, everything else works so well that you won't mind. Like I said up front, "Deadline" is not terribly sad or depressing, because Ben is so smart, ironic, witty, and yet sincere that he's able to keep the story of his own death from turning bleak. At its heart, this is a book about doing something with your life, no matter how long or short it is, and it should give most of you high school age readers a lot to think about. I'd definitely recommend it.

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Posted by on November 5, 2007 in Uncategorized


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