Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Plot Summary:
Some people believe in the concept of reincarnation, or rebirth, but for Travis Coates he was literally brought back to life with the help of a scientific procedure that's still in its infancy. Prior to his procedure, Travis was diagnosed with Lukemia and, despite chemotheraphy, Travis' body was losing the battle against the cancer. When it seemed that all was lost, Dr. Saranson, from the Saranson CEnter of Life Preservation, approached Travis with an unusual proposition that could help him overcome his illness and live a long and healthy life. However, there was one small catch: his head would be removed from his ailing body and then cryogenically frozen for an unspecified amount of time. Although this was Travis' only option to live the life he wanted, he and his parents made the decision to go through with this procedure. Granted, Travis had come to terms with his death, he didn't expect to wake up five short years later with a brand new body and instant fame. What was supposed to be the happiest time of his life, Travis learned that he is the second successful body transplant and must face a whirlwind of praise and condemnation. Furthermore, Travis had to face the stark reality that, during his cryogenic slumber, everyone he loves has moved on with their lives, leaving him in same exact place he left five years ago: repeating tenth grade and no one to share it with. Granted, Travis has found a new friend in Hatton finally re-connected with his best friend, Kyle,  he learns that his girlfriend, Cate, has not only moved on with her life, but is engaged to another man. Instead of letting her go, Travis embarks on a journey to not only get his life back, but also get the girl he loves back. The only problem with this scenario: what if he fails and refuses to let go? Readers will laugh and cry as the read about a second chance at life that isn't exactly the second chance we all want.

Critical Evaluation:
I am absolutely astounded with how funny and profound this story is! If readers have read John Corey Whaley's debut Where Things Come Back, this is definitely a different direction, but, nevertheless, a solid story that conveys what an amazing writer Whaley is. Travis Coates is an average teen who has a family that loves him and two best friends he can't imagine living without. Sadly, when he is diagnosed with Lukemia, the fight for his life only strengthened the bond between him and his friends and he refuses to go out without a fight. Travis is an amazing young man who loves fiercely and unconditionally. Although Travis' fight with cancer is only part of the story, readers will see just how difficult his transition is when his whole life came crashing down on him within a few months. Along with Travis' journey, readers will see what the last five years have done to his best friend (Kyle), his girlfriend (Cate), and his parents. I will admit that my heart sunk as the truth unfolded and all I wanted to do was dive into the pages and just hug Travis. In many ways, Travis was the one who agreed to have his head frozen, but, at the same time, he didn't take into consideration what the future may hold. Honestly, I think all of us would react the way Travis did because we just expect our loved ones to wait for us and make sure nothing will change. Well, sadly, for Travis, everything he knew didn't last the test of time and now it's time for him to make a new life. Despite the fact that he had his head removed, crycogenically frozen and transplanted onto a donor body, this is a coming-of-age tale where a young man must face five years of growing pains in a matter of months and, ultimately, learn to overcome his hardships by learning learn to let go and embrace the unknown.

Information about the Author:
According to his website:
JOHN ‘COREY’ WHALEY grew up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, where he learned to be sarcastic and to tell stories.  He has a B.A. in English from Louisiana Tech University, as well as an M.A in Secondary English Education. He started writing stories about aliens and underwater civilizations when he was around ten or eleven, but now writes realistic YA fiction (which sometimes includes zombies…). He taught public school for five years and spent much of that time daydreaming about being a full-time writer…and dodging his students’ crafty projectiles. He is terrible at most sports, but is an occasional kayaker and bongo player.  He is obsessed with movies, music, and traveling to new places. He is an incredibly picky eater and has never been punched in the face, though he has come quite close.  One time, when he was a kid, he had a curse put on him by a strange woman in the arcade section of a Wal-Mart.  His favorite word is defenestration.  His favorite color is green.  His favorite smell is books.  He currently lives in Los Angeles. 

Where Things Come Back is his first novel.

NOGGIN, his second novel, is out on April 8, 2014. 
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Humor

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & Up

Books Similar to Noggin:
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Every Day by David Leviathan
Awards & Recognition:
"Travis Coates has lost his head—literally.... [A] wonderfully original, character-driven second novel. Whaley has written a tour de force of imagination and empathy, creating a boy for whom past, present, and future come together in an implied invitation to readers to wonder about the very nature of being. A sui generis novel of ideas, Noggin demands much of its readers, but it offers them equally rich rewards." (Booklist, November 2013, *STARRED REVIEW)

"The madcap story of a boy who loses his head and finds it again. . . . Readers will recognize the Printz winner’s trademark lovable characterizations. . . . They’ll also recognize the poignantly rendered reflections on life, love, death and everything in between. . . . Whaley’s signature cadence and mad storytelling skillz are worth every page. A satisfyingly oddball Frankenstein-like tale of connectivity." (Kirkus Reviews, February 2014)

* "Travis Coates has his head surgically removed and cryogenically frozen after he dies (of leukemia at age 16)...five years after his death, technological advances allow doctors to attach his head to a donor body that's taller and more muscular than the original.... Travis's comic determination to turn back the hands of poignant and heartbreaking. His status in limbo will resonate with teens who feel the same frustration at being treated like kids and told to act like adults." (Publishers Weekly, January 2014, *STARRED REVIEW)

"Whaley’s sweet and raunchy first-person narrative provides a thought-provoking look at the notions of self-awareness, the nature of identity, and the angst of a very special teen. The lively, conversational style will engage teen readers in search of an unusual, but relatable, character. At times hilarious and heart-wrenching, Noggin, with its eye-catching cover art, belongs in all library collections serving young adults." (VOYA, February 2014)

"Readers will find it easy to become invested in Travis's second coming-of age—brimming with humor, pathos, and angst—and root for him to make peace with his new life." (Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2014)

"Travis Coates, 16, is dying of cancer, so he accepts an offer from a cryogenic group to have his head removed and frozen with the hope that it would be attached to another body in the future and he could be reanimated. Five years later, he "wakes up" with a new body and is still 16. . . . The premise of the story is interesting. . . . The author does a good job of describing the emotions and reactions of all of the characters." (School Library Journal, March 2014)

* "What is it like to be frozen, à la Ted Williams, never believing you'll really come back--and then you do? That's the preposterous premise of John Corey Whaley's novel, conveyed with realistic emotions that keep his narrator, Travis, grounded, and the story credible--and also highly entertaining--for readers. . . . Whaley makes his hero's implausible situation absolutely convincing. The questions lurking behind Travis's sometimes rash actions plague all teenagers. . . . Ultimately this insightful story explores the challenges of intimate relationships and managing expectations. Whaley asks teens to think about the life they want to make for themselves." (Shelf Awareness, April 2014, *STARRED REVIEW*)

"NOGGIN is an incredibly imaginative way to examine the universal feeling of longing to return to the way things use to be…. Far from predictable, NOGGIN contains a few twists to keep readers guessing, but the real heart of the book is the hang up on the past--the feeling that if you could just remind someone you loved how things used to be, old feelings would quickly return. It also focuses on larger issues, like how to deal with the weight of other's expectations, and how to get a friend to be true to themselves. NOGGIN is a novel about trying for a future very different from the one you planned, and learning to be ok with the change. Funny and relatable, fans of Whaley's first novel WHERE THINGS COME BACK won't be disappointed." (, April 2014)

“The premise of John Corey Whaley’s young adult novel “Noggin” – outlandish as it is – has such wonderful resonance. . . . Whaley has a gift for detail. . . . He can be very funny. . . . And, like [John] Green, he can choke you up.” (New York Times Book Review, May 2014)

"A graceful combination of raw heartbreak and biting wit (including plenty of head puns) guides Travis through [his] existential search for life's meaning and survival. . . . While the novel's premise may be straight out of Hollywood, Travis' voice could not be any truer. Fans of John Green will welcome this smart tearjerker." (BookPage, April/May 2014, Top Pick)

"We weren't sure what to expect from this one, but were pleasantly surprised by honest, funny and incredibly likeable Travis. As a walking miracle, he should be grateful, but he struggles with feeling out of step in his own life. Noggin is filled with loving relationships that remind us that even with the kindest people and the best intentions, life is complicated." (Justine Magazine, June/July 2014) 

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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