I only read a handful of books this year, and most of those were rereads of things I already knew I loved. This was one of two or three books I read which were new to me, and can I just say that it’s books like this that drove away my love of reading in the first place? I have been struggling since I graduated from college to find my passion for literature again, specifically young adult literature, and it’s so difficult to regain that when it feels like the majority of books I take a chance on end up being boring and terrible.
Never Eighteen seemed like it could be a quick and uplifting read—it’s obvious from the description that our main character, Austin, doesn’t have a lot of time because of some unexplained terminal illness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this couldn’t be inspiring and heart-warming. Unfortunately, a book like this makes all the Hallmark Christmas movies I’ve been binge-watching look like Oscar winners. There was nothing even slightly likeable about Austin or even his best friend, Kaylee, and certainly nothing Austin did or said to anyone else made me feel even slightly sorry for him. It was cliché and convenient, an unsavory combination when it comes to reading.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- • All I can really say here is that it passed the one-star test; that is, it didn’t make me so furious that I was fuming by the time I finished reading it, and it wasn’t written so horrendously that it was laughably funny. It just kind of was, which isn’t a great thing for a book to be. For me, apathy usually translates to a two- or three-star read because I just can’t drum up enough emotion to even dislike it enough for anything less. This wasn’t on the list of worst books I’ve ever read, and that’s really the biggest compliment I can offer.
What I Didn’t Like:
- • Austin’s relationship with Kaylee is absolutely ridiculous. He says he’s been in love with her since they were kids, but he’s chosen to just treat her like a friend instead because he doesn’t want to lose her. The way Austin thinks about her, though, it unsettling. He takes pictures of her when she’s sleeping; he works to remember the way she looks in her pajamas; he’s constantly imagining what it would be like to kiss or touch her. These aren’t things that “just friends” think about, and while I understand that it’s difficult to turn those feelings off, his constant stream of thoughts about her drowned out everything that made me understand why they were best friends. He doesn’t think about who she is or why he loves her so much, so I never could understand why what they had was special or important. In addition to that, he’s not even kind to her; he makes her drive him around (she literally skips work to drive him places), then tells her she can’t come inside to talk with the people he visits. Midway through the story, the entire focus becomes on telling Kaylee how he feels and wondering how she’ll react—and since this is the kind of YA book that it is, of course Kaylee has always felt the same way and everything works out all hunky dory.
- • Austin’s visits were shallow and poorly constructed. I can’t remember exactly how many people he goes to see, but he makes a bunch of house calls during a two-day period so he can change everyone’s lives and convince them to be better than they are. This book paints people who have experienced any kind of tragedy as hermits, unwilling and unable to make anything of themselves. Austin, our hero, traipses into their homes, reminds them of everything that hurts them, then casually tells them it’s time to either move on or get help. His biggest selling point is that they should feel guilty for wasting their lives because he’s going to die. These people spill their inner-most demons to this guy they’ve barely talked to in years, and I guess his little spiel is enough to mend every hurt they’ve ever had? Bostic tried to cram every terrible thing that could ever happen to anyone into this novel (sometimes several things in one character), which overloaded the characters and made them very unsympathetic. I don’t believe in playing lightly with topics like rape, drug addition, etc, but these were all merely plot devices in Austin’s “save the world” journey.
- • The chronology of this book makes absolutely no sense. In one day, Austin and Kaylee visit four or five people, go to the country fair (rides, food, the whole shebang), drive to Seattle, eat dinner, drive home, then go visit some more people. There’s just no way. This was a poorly mapped out weekend that sure had to be longer than a weekend. In addition, I still hate present tense writing as much as I ever had. In case you didn’t see this coming, Austin does indeed die at the end of the book, but never fear! Just because the story is written in first person present tense from Austin’s point of view doesn’t mean the story’s going to end. Nope, no worries because it just continues from the third person as Kaylee deals with her grief over losing her one true love. If you’re going to write in first person present tense, please just commit to it and finish your story with your narrator.
Overall: I didn’t have many great things to say here, but it simply didn’t fire me up enough to write a one-star review. If you’re looking for something meaningful and engaging about death and mortality, there are plenty of other books you could read that deal with these issues in a real, authentic way. Nothing about Never Eighteen was real or authentic, but rather overly convenient and cliché. It’s not one I’d recommend, unless you’re some kind of glutton for punishment.
See this review on my blog: