Recommendation: Hate to anger all the nerdfighters out there, but this YA novel about kids with terminal diseases is even better than The Fault In Our Stars. It’s a little grittier too, so if that’s not your style then you’ll prefer Greene’s work, but I think the additional grit is a realistic evil when talking about dying adolescents. So, this one takes the cake as the best YA I’ve read in the past couple years.
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I’ve been sitting on this review for over six months now because I wanted to post it when the book actually hit the shelves. Well SUTHY as they call it is finally out to the public and, let me tell you, this is a book that you should grab.
It’s an ominous title, sure, but it’s a great book. Title really makes sense anyways, if you look at the whole situation from the view of a 17-year-old boy who’s spent the last few years dealing with the physical toll of cancer and the emotional toll of watching his loved ones panic, stress, and suffer over his fate. By the time we meet him, Rich has been moved to hospice, essentially the final stop before the inevitable end. Coincidentally, Rich is not the only young person muddled in hospice care. A bright-eyed, energetic, 15-year-old burst of light named Sylvia shares Rich’s hallway, though she has no plans to make hospice care her final destination. Thrust together by their shared circumstance, Sylvia and Rich find solace in each other’s company and begin a romantic dance, much to the chagrin of their parents. But, nothing can control the hormones of teenagers, and with their health fading away, young love might be the only thing that can bring them back to the world.
I’m gonna get my few complaints out of the way here. I doubt this one is actually going to be a problem of any sort by the time this is released, but my copy had quite a few typos, line break errors, and repeated sentences. But, before you freak out, you should know that I got an advanced Advanced Reader Copy for this novel. Like, super advanced (we’re talking 9 months ahead of time). The good people at Algonquin Books (the publisher and host of my former internship) are top-notch and I have no doubt that this will all be figured out by the launch date, but, since I’m writing about my experience, I figure I need to include all my impressions. The only actual flaw that inhabits this book is the caricatured vision of Sylvia’s father. While the rest of the characters are fully drawn, Sylvia’s father is cast exclusively as a villain. He snarls and threatens, is physically and emotionally abusive, has no sympathy for Rich’s situation, and says some rather horrible stuff. Seamon excuses the father’s behavior with a few sentences here and there mentioning how stressful and painful it is to watch his daughter die. But, really, there isn’t a good explanation for why a person in the midst of such destruction would meet others in his same situation—or worse—with total hostility and no compassion. He just doesn’t fit in with the crowd of real people that Seamon engineers.
So, on to the good stuff which includes basically everything else. The thing that I appreciate the most about Somebody Up There Hates You, is its honest portrayal of teenagers in crisis. I mentioned in my review of The Fault In Our Stars that, while the characters it presented were a lot of fun, they had a loud quality that resonated an octave too high. By determining to be cute, playful, and funny, Greene’s characters also became slightly staged. SUTHY handles this far better. There are moments of lighthearted joy, but they are highlights of an otherwise serious condition—the exception rather than the norm. Seamon forsakes excessive pleasure in order to give an honest portrayal, and I think this is an important quality to maintain for the chosen material. There needs to be a counterweight to the sadness in this tale, sure, but it’s more fitting to leave the scales slightly unbalanced, as Seamon does.
Rich is probably the most accurate, and most amusing, portrayal of a teenage boy that I can remember reading. He struggles with the implications and morals of his decisions, but he still can’t stop himself sometimes. He loves Sylvia, but that doesn’t mean that he will avert his gaze from other attractive women. He doesn’t want to worry his mother but, when presented with the opportunity, he hightails it out of the hospital. Even with lowered energy, Rich is a perfect maelstrom of desire, disaster, and distraction. He tries to do right, but he isn’t fully formed, and if that’s not the definition of a teenager, then I don’t know what is.