Title: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster
Length: 320 Pages
Category: Young Adult
At a Glance: This is such a lovely novel, exceedingly recommendable, and it made me an instant fan of its author.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: A heartbreaking yet uplifting story about a boy who has lost everything but finds new hope drawing in the shadows of a hospital. Features a thirty-two-page graphic novel.
Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night, just like the rest of his family.
Now he lives in the hospital, serving food in the cafeteria, hanging out with the nurses, sleeping in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him. His only solace is in the world of the superhero he’s created—Patient F.
Then, one night, Rusty is wheeled into the ER, half his body burned by hateful classmates. Rusty’s agony is like a beacon for Drew, pulling them together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside of the hospital, and away from their painful pasts.
But to save Rusty, Drew will have to confront death, and life might get worse before it gets better. And by telling the truth about who he really is, Drew risks any chance of a future…for both of them.
Review: I bought this book back in May and have only just gotten around to reading it. You know how it goes: you hoard books with the intent of reading all of them…someday. Well, that day was today, finally. Or, a few days ago now, to be more specific. You also know how it goes when you feel like you’re probably the last person on earth to read a book, so what’s the point of telling everyone how much you loved it if they already know how fantastic it is? The only answer I have for that is, sometimes you love a book so much that if you don’t tell someone else how much you loved it, then that love dies with you. And that’s not the point of reading, is it? Keeping that love to yourself?
Simply put, Andrew Brawley is grief. See what the author did there? The five stages of grief—denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—are the five stages of Andrew, and the author allows the reader to go through each of these stages with the boy whose home is in a room in the unfinished wing of a hospital. Andrew’s parents and sister died in that hospital, you see, and survivor’s guilt, along with his grief, imprisons Drew within its walls because it’s the one place where his family—or, at least the residual essence of his family—still exist. “Andrew, Drew, Andy. Whatever.” We know from the moment that Drew introduces himself in this way that he’s disassociated with his identity in some respects; then, Shaun David Hutchinson spends the rest of the book showing us how, all while Drew is building a new family of sorts within the walls and hallways of the hospital.
Drew works in the hospital cafeteria, paid in cash under the table; visits Grandma Brawley, who’s in a coma and to whom he confesses some of his deepest secrets; befriends a few nurses who let him get away with breaking the rules, often against their better judgement; and keeps an eye on Death as she lives and breathes within the walls and hallways of his hospital—always on the lookout for her next victim. Drew attempting, always, to stay one step ahead of her. He has friends who need him—Lexi and Trevor, who are both battling cancer. And Rusty, the boy who appeared in the ER one night, badly burned, and then, without even knowing it, set a fire in Drew’s heart. But maybe Drew needs these people a little more than they need him. Whichever the case, Andrew Brawley must remain vigilant for them because he’s made promises.
Promises that, it turns out, even a superhero couldn’t guarantee to keep.
There’s a suspension of reality to this novel, one that doesn’t allow readers to ask too many questions about how a seventeen-year-old boy manages to live in a hospital for so long without anyone realizing he never leaves. But “out there” doesn’t exist for Drew. Out there isn’t a place where Andrew Brawley belongs. Drew doesn’t deserve to live out there. Maybe, Drew thinks, he doesn’t deserve to live anywhere, or to love anyone, or to be loved by anyone. Drew’s continued existence just might be his greatest punishment. So, while the author tries to murder your heart and wring your tear ducts dry as you read about all the goings-on with Drew and the people he feels obligated in some way to save, you absorb his experiences and his pain and his hopes and fears. And it’s that level of emotional interaction with the book and its characters that make it so special. The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is a book about longing for the things you can’t have—or won’t allow yourself to have—because the pain of having and losing is just too much to risk.
But having and losing is all a part of the growing process, and it’s a part of Andrew Brawley, the boy, too. Through grief and self-loathing, and loving and losing, and, finally, discovering that Death has a firm grip on his life-thread and he’s unraveling at the seams as he runs away, Andrew Brawley reveals his hand. No more bluffing, no more upping the ante, Drew folds under the pressure of his grief, and it is both beautiful and terrible to witness.
There’s nothing in the YA genre that bothers me more than an author who dumbs things down for his teenage readers. Hutchinson doesn’t do that in the slightest here. Part of the brilliance of this novel, in fact, is the universality of its message. I’m far removed in age from the story’s target demographic, and yet, the story’s core resonates so profoundly in the various facets of its hopes and dreams and message. I can still believe in the magic of a kiss, and have faith that we keep moving forward in spite of the pain life sometimes inflicts on us. And that, someday, we may write our own happy ending the way our young hero does in this book.
This is such a lovely novel, exceedingly recommendable, and it made me an instant fan of its author.
You can buy The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley here: