Crutcher, Chris. 2007. Deadline.
My plan was to focus my senior year on information I could use after graduation when I set out for Planet Earth from the Pluto that is Trout, Idaho, population 943. My SATs said I wasn't even close to brain-dead and I was set to be accepted at any college I chose, as long as I chose one that would accept me.
Thus begins Deadline. Our narrator is Ben Wolf. From the very beginning--page 2 to be exact--we know that Ben is dying presumably of cancer. "Doc Wagner left a phone message a few days after my routine cross-country physical . . .there was gravity in his voice, so I decided I'd better scout ahead to see if his message was PG-13 and suited for all, or R-rated and just for me. Turned out to be X." He opts out of seeking treatment and decides to live life with all the zest and zeal he can muster. He also decides NOT to tell his parents, his brother, his coaches, his friends, his teachers. He'll carry the burden of his impending departure all on his own.
One of the first things he decides is to go out in style. If he is going to die young, he might as well be brave and try out for football. He's a short guy. A small guy. But he's always envied his younger brother's skills on the football field. Now is his last chance to go for it all--both on and off the field. Football. He also has his eyes on one other thing--his dream girl, Dallas Suzuki.
School. Football. Dating. His dysfunctional family. He starts out thinking that he is going to protect his friends, his family, his loved ones by keeping this big secret. That they're too fragile to handle the truth. That it would ruin their lives to have to watch him die and know what's coming. And as a reader, you can see there are reasons why he would think that. His mother is a basket case. She has tons of issues all her own. And she's barely holding onto her sanity most of the time--not all the time though. And his father is so concerned with taking care of his wife that things do get a bit neglected at times.
If there is a theme in Deadline it would be that everything is complicated. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Relationships with friends, families, lovers, etc. are complicated. Nothing is as simple as it appears. Lies. Secrets. Regrets. Everyone has them. Everyone is carrying a burden--be it of shame, guilt, anger, or confusion. Ben isn't the only one keeping secrets. And it is through his relationships--his conversations--that he learns some of life's greatest lessons.
Two relationships stand out. One is with an older man, the town drunk. Ben gets the notion he needs to "save" this man from himself and stop him from self-destructing. The problem is that some burdens can't be eased--not in this lifetime--not without divine intervention. The other relationship is with Dallas. Dallas has a few secrets of her own--about her family, about her past--she comes clean with Ben. But Ben has trouble being honest with her. Will she--can she--forgive him for lying by omission?
I didn't love everything about this book. I'll admit to some personal biases. The conversations he has with Hey-Soos or Jesus, his 'imaginary' guide were troublesome for me. Not everyone will find the messages and 'truths' to be troublesome, however, and there are many many views of spirituality and the afterlife. Just because I didn't click with this particular aspect doesn't mean I disliked the novel. And it won't stop me from recommending it to people.
Deadline is similar to Before I Die. Both have teen narrators that are facing death. Both decide to live life to the fullest why they can. Their philosophies are different. Very, very different. But both are independent and strong-willed. Both have complicated families--dysfunctional families--they're leaving behind. Both want to find love and romance before they die. One is on the surface more honest and forthcoming and the other. I can see strengths and weaknesses in both. Before I Die made me cry at the end, I didn't have that response with Deadline. What was missing for me in both books--and this is a personal thing I would imagine--is that I had a hard time liking--really liking--the characters. I thought Crutcher's were better developed. I thought there was more depth, more development. I think Ben was a bit more self-aware and definitely less self-destructive than Tessa. I think he did better at dealing with what life had thrown him. But that's not to say that Before I Die doesn't have strengths of its own. I can see why they are both powerful depictions.