This is the story of Ben's last year of life. After he learns that he has a rare blood disease, he decides to live his last year of high school to the fullest. Ben decides to play football with his brother Cody, who he is very close to. He also decides to pursue the most beautiful girl on campus, Dallas Suzuki. He gathers the courage to approach her, and she asks him to hang out with her. Later, they sleep together, and after that romance "dies," Ben focuses on other goals he's set for himself. He challenges his teachers because he reads a lot, like his father. He wants to make sure that Mr. Lambeer teaches in a fashion that is unbiased by his own opinions. Mr. Lambeer's lessons inspire Ben to challenge his small, all-white, town to name a street after Malcolm X. He isn't able to see his dream realized; however, he does realize that keeping his mystery illness from his fragile family and people he's become close to is not the right thing to do. He decides to be honest with his family, and they help him cope as his health continues to deteriorate.
Chris Crutcher tackles the intense idea of death and fulfillment in this novel. As I read, I immediately was reminded of a friend who was diagnosed with AIDS when his family had just gone through a divorce, and he was afraid to be truthful about his condition for fear of judgement and regret. However, this is not Ben's case. He decides to keep it from his mother because of her depression and from his father's because he seems to be there for his sons when they need it. Ben thinks his family's "symmetry" will be disturbed by his imminent death. Death, family dynamic, and the belief that one's actions affect other people - even when death is imminent - are powerful topics in this novel that can be used for discussion, debates, and character analysis.
Another Crutcher book, Angry Management, is composed of three novellas about how to overcome adversity and have hope despite anger, prejudice, and rage.
Requirement: Selection by Chris Crutcher
Book cover images found on Amazon.com