Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review Copy -- Death Benefits

Here's my first review of a book that hasn't been published yet -- I received a review copy from the publisher to review.

Royce is miserable. He’s been moved from Nova Scotia to Vancouver (pretty much all the way across the country, for those of you unfamiliar with Canadian geography) because his grandfather can no longer take care of himself. Royce is not attending high school because, after contracting mono he missed so many days that he talked his mom into letting him stay home until the next school year. I thought this situation was a bit contrived (what mom would agree to such a thing) but it makes the story work.

Death Benefits, by Sarah Harvey, is a story about a teenage boy growing up and realizing that his struggles are not that different from his ninety-five year old grandfather’s. Nina, Royce’s mom, has had such bad luck keeping caregivers for Arthur (Royce’s cantankerous grandfather) that she hires Royce to take care of Arthur for six hours every day, Monday through Friday. Royce is in it for the money. His intention is to buy a car and get back to his friends in Nova Scotia as quickly as possible, and surviving his grandfather’s verbal abuse and vicious mood swings is the fastest way to do it.

Of course, the relationship becomes much more. Royce does his best to understand his grandfather’s mood swings – and begins to realize his grandfather’s unhappiness is not that far from Royce’s. “Why does everyone treat him like his brain’s as feeble as his body? I mean, yeah, sometimes the cogs slip, but most of the time he knows exactly what’s going on. He just doesn’t like it very much. I know how that feels.” Royce begins to understand his grandfather (who is a famous cellist) when he explores the many old photo albums in his grandfather’s closet.

This book was enjoyable to read. Arthur’s character is very real – if anyone has ever dealt with aging parents or grandparents, his character rings true. Royce is a bit too good to be true, but his maturation throughout the story is satisfying. I’m not sure how appealing this story will be to teens. I think it will take some marketing on the part of teachers and librarians. I believe girls, especially, will enjoy the book, but I don’t think they’ll pick up a book that’s about a teenage boy babysitting his 95-year-old grandfather without some prodding. A very heartwarming, satisfying read.

This review has also been posted to my librarything account:

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