Sunday, August 30, 2009

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

I must confess that it is hard for me to be unbiased in discussing a Chris Crutcher book because he is just the most incredible writer for young adults (and adults, too). He speaks to teens as if he were one. On a visit to our school in 2005 he spoke extemporaneously to the students who laughed, cried, and were completely enthralled. He is a writer who has the power to change lives and I know that he has done that. Deadline is an extraordinary book to say the least. It has all the hallmarks of a Crutcher novel: frank language, intense life and death situations, exciting sports scenes, dysfunctional families, moral dilemmas, secrets, and a message of hope.

Ben Wolf has his routine sports physical before starting his senior year. But this physical was anything but routine when the doctor asked that Ben and his parents come in for a consultation. Ben arrives by himself and after pressuring the doctor to speak to him alone learns that he has a terminal blood disease. The doctor discusses treatment options, but Ben refuses to be a part of that or to tell his parents. He is, after all, eighteen years old and an adult in the eyes of the medical world. Ben decides that he will live the next year as normally as possible. I can't imagine harboring this secret as an adult, let alone a teenager. Ben will make the most of his year. He tries out for the football team despite being a very short and small person and with his brother, Cody, ends up a true her. To wait for his spring season sport of cross country would be just pushing his luck too far. He is determined not to die without making love and set his eye on Dallas Suzuki who has a secret as startling as Ben's.

There ancillary story lines, which piece together contribute to Ben's self -discovery and introspection. Father figures abound. There is Rudy, fan of Malcom X, battling demons of drugs and alcohol and a sordid past who is Ben's sounding board. Coach Banks understands Ben's home life and shows up with all the fixings for Christmas dinner. Ben's father is on the road but tries his best to be there for his son. And then there is Mr. Lambeer, Ben's government teacher who goes through the motions of teaching and is content to only teach what is in the biased textbooks. Ben's choice of Senior project puts Lambeer on the defensive and he obstinately fights Ben to the end as he tries to complete the research and implementation of the project. Armed with a copy of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Bill Bryson's
A Short History of Nearly Everything, Ben is determined to get the most out of his classes and he will not let Lambeer or any other teacher stand in his way. Guiding Ben along his fateful journey is his spiritual mentor and heart, Jesus, really pronounced Hay-soos. ( I couldn't help think of Crutcher's story of when his brother broke his prized "Jesus Saves" statue and he ended up with "esus Saves.")

Chris Crutcher's wit shines through Deadline. There are some scenes that are down right hysterical, not what you would expect from a book in which the underlying theme is death. I dare any reader not to be fully engaged with the characters and story of this book. It is emotional, touching, and dramatic. Thank you Chris Crutcher for another fantastic book!

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