By Shaun David Hutchinson
Illustrated by Christine Larsen
Available now from Simon Pulse
Andrew Brawley has a lot of guilt and a big secret. His parents and sister are dead, and he should've died with them. But he didn't, and now he's living in the hospital, hiding from the woman he calls Death. He works in the cafeteria, volunteers the night ER shift, and otherwise hustles to keep people from noticing that he's around all the time.
The something happens to shake him up: a boy named Rusty is admitted. He was burned badly in a hate crime, because he's gay.
THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY takes on a lot of big topics. There's death from accident, illness, and suicide - and that's just the beginning. Almost everyone in the hospital has a story, down to the cook that employs Drew in the cafeteria and the woman in a coma he's claimed as his grandmother. The biggest stories are those of Drew himself, Rusty, and two teenagers with cancer: Zachary and Lexi. Drew dreams of Zachary and Lexi realizing that they like each other and living the lives they could have, but he's afraid to act on his attraction to Rusty.
Between some chapters are graphic novel excerpts from Drew's story about Patient F. Christine Larsen's stark black and white artwork, with its brittle lines, is startlingly dark. It's a tale of people in bodies that don't belong to them, death and torture and repeating it again and again as Patient F travels through time to try to save his family this time. As a priest who talks to Drew realizes, it reveals a lot about his state of mind and the issues he's trying to work through.
THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY is not a happy book, although it has many humorous moments and a hopeful ending. It was hard for me to read at times, since it seemed like bad things just kept happening. I expected the twist involving Rusty, but not the ultimate fate of Zachary and Lexi. It's definitely a strange book, one that will stick out in my mind as a unique reading experience.
I particularly liked how the stories each character told wove throughout the story. THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY is a novel about how we see ourselves and how others see us (among other things). It's a portrait of its enigmatic eponymous hero, but also of the people in his life.