Noggin By John Corey Whaley: Book Review



Listen — Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.

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.

When reading the synopsis, you would think that Noggin was going to be a weird sci-fi book, but it is actually kind of a cancer story.  The novel follows Travis who has had his head cut off after his body was ravaged by cancer.  Knowing that he had no other options, Travis endured a new medical procedure, in which his head was cut off and cryogenically frozen until technology allowed his head to be placed upon a different body.  Travis expects to wake up in the distant future, but instead he wakes up 5 years later, which is just long enough to let his friends and family move on, but not long enough for Travis to be able to let them go because to him it is as if no time has passed.

I was not expecting to like this book, but from the very start it drew me right in.  I tend to shy away from stories about grief, especially revolving around cancer, because I find they are a little too heavy handed for my taste, but Travis’s refreshing voice made me unable to put the book down.  Interlaced with the perfect amount of sarcasm, Travis’s humor jumps off the page and put a smirk on my face despite the despondency of his situation.

Noggin tells Travis’s story of coming back to life as a famous medical miracle, while including flashbacks of his former life.  Emotions abound in this novel. Although Whaley’s writing style is humorous, there is a sad undertone which made me tear up at times.  Some of the tears were shed out of the beauty of Travis’s relationship between his family and his friends, but also, there were moments that made me feel weak and fragile because of the heartbreaking situations Travis endures.  Noggin primarily focuses on Travis’ relationships with his friends and family, all of which are strained because of the circumstances.  Everyone wants to move on, but nobody knows how. Sadly there wasn’t a “dealing with the aftermath of when a relative comes back from the dead” book to guide them.  As the story goes on, it becomes evident the significance Travis’s presence has on all the characters.  I really felt touched by the stories of these characters, especially between Travis and his old friend Kyle.

Although I felt very engrossed throughout the beginning and middle of the story, the book trailed off in the end for me.  I didn’t think the ending was that strong and some of Travis’ actions began to annoy me.  While they fit along with his desperation, I would have hoped that by the end of the story he had developed a little bit more.  However, my expectations might not be as realistic as the ending that Whaley planned out for a character in Travis’ situation, so I would not call it the worst ending ever, it simply did not hit me.

Overall Noggin is a unique novel regarding the effects of cancer.  This is a book that despite its humor will really make you think about relationships, life, and the passage of time.  This would also be a fantastic book to read in book clubs because there are so many ideas and themes worth discussing.  If you are looking for a funny book that still has some depth to it, I would highly recommend this book!