The Deathday Letter
Simon Pulse 2010
I added this to my wish list earlier in the year when I was picking books for my 2010 Debut Author Challenge list. I thought that it had an interesting premise and the cover made me both laugh and shiver. It's taken me ages to getting round to reading it and I went in with next to no idea of how it had been received as I'd seen no reviews. The premise is absolutely simple with our main character Ollie receiving a letter informing him that he will be dead in roughly 24 hours. This is the norm in the world that he lives in and The Deathday Letter follows his erratic, hilarious and touching progress through the last day of his life.
Protagonist, Ollie is exceptionally believable. In fact, I cannot think of a male protagonist who reminded me quite so much of the boys that I actually knew at fifteen. From his obsession with girls (obsession with sex, really) and his inability to express himself to his ability to see a double entendre in just about everything, he could have been one of any number of male friends that I had in high school. And he is entirely loveable for it. Both he and his best friend Shane beautifully represent that stage where teenage boys are kind of like overgrown puppies. Full of energy, constantly hungry and pretty keen to please yet with absolutely no focus or direction. It made absolute sense to me that, when confronted with his imminent demise, Ollie initially just heads of to school. He's never planned for his death and doesn't have a clue what to do now it's approaching. He spends the day doing what many adults might find frivolous (not me, incidentally, I thought it all sounded like jolly good fun and perfectly reasonable) but what I honestly believe most teenage boys would consider ideal pursuits if they were shortly to cark it. Ollie's relationship with Ronnie, his close-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-ex-girlfriend is equally recognisable. Having made the difficult transition from friends to more they seem to have floundered with Ronnie expecting more of one thing and Ollie expecting more of another (yes, that would be sex again – he thinks about it a LOT). It's fascinating, not to mention touching, to watch them try to figure all this stuff out in just one day when really they should have had several years to realise what makes the opposite sex tick.
While the plot is light – think Ferris Bueller's Day Off with a less chirpy ending – the premise is strong. In Ollie's world, everyone has always received a Deathday letter (including Abraham Lincoln). It's inevitable and unavoidable and it throws up some interesting questions. Is it better to know that you're going to die and have 24 hours in which you can do as you please, be it sit with loved ones, sort out your affairs or get mind-blowingly drunk? Or is it better to not know – to just enjoy one last normal day, unafraid of your forthcoming shuffle off the mortal coil? Ollie wonders these things – not extensively, but enough that you find your self pondering the issues raised. On the whole, I think I'd prefer not to know but each to their own.
The writing is really quite lovely. Sometimes reminiscent of John Green (Shane is most certainly a JG worthy side-kick), Shaun Hutchinson non-the-less shines as a fresh, new voice on the YA scene. At times exceptionally funny, I also was moved to tears by The Deathday Letter and by the end was a jibbering wreck. And that's not a spoiler – the author goes out of his way to ensure that from the first line we know that Ollie is not going to make it. But that's ok because, as he also states, the book isn't about him dying but about him living. Ollie may seize his “mortediem” but to my mind The Deathday Letter is all about the rest of us carpe-ing the rest of our normal diems. Who knows what one might be your last? All in all, a greatly enjoyable read and an impressive debut.
The Deathday Letter is available in book shops now.