Atheneum Books for Young Reader, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1442458720, April 2014
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 doctors surgically reattach Travis’s head to someone else’s body and bring him back to life, he finds out that although his death definitely impacted the lives of his loved ones, most of them have learned to cope without him. Most notably, his girlfriend Cate is now 21 and engaged to someone else, which is a huge letdown since Travis’s major motivation for asking to have his head severed and frozen was the hope that he could come back for her someday. No one really expected it to work, though, not after only five years. Now Travis feels like he’s trapped in time, still 16 and feeling like he just saw everyone a few days ago when their lives have changed and continued.
Whaley plays it smart by focusing on Travis’s experiences with trying to fit back into a different-but-not-that-different world rather than trying to get into the mechanics of a full-body transplant. His romantic yearning for Cate underscores the human tendency, particularly in the teen years, to think of ourselves as part of a unit made up of our close friends. Whaley emphasizes Cate and Travis’s relationship as a great friendship in addition to a great love, creating a rich chemistry and also tearing violently at the reader’s heartstrings when Travis’s attempts to win Cate back necessarily fall flat.
While Travis’s denial and his struggle to reclaim his life in a really freakin’ weird situation take up most of the narrative, the humorous tone and pure heart at the center of this story keep the feel genuine, never over-the-top angsty or melodramatic. In the end, Noggin is a tribute to the gift of life and second chances. Keep two or three tissues in reserve, but prepare to spend most of the book laughing.
Recommend to: A nice general suggestion for teens, though mature readers will get the most out of it
To buy or not to buy: Oh, it’s so awesome. Please put it in your library.