Title: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse/20 January 2015
Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night. His parents did, and so did his sister, but he survived.
Now he lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, he hangs out with the nurses, and he sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him.
Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, burned on half his body by hateful classmates. His agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside the hospital, and away from their pasts.
But Drew knows that life is never that simple. Death roams the hospital, searching for Drew, and now Rusty. Drew lost his family, but he refuses to lose Rusty, too, so he’s determined to make things right. He’s determined to bargain, and to settle his debts once and for all.
But Death is not easily placated, and Drew’s life will have to get worse before there is any chance for things to get better.
A partly graphic novel.
This book has content warnings for death, suicide/attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts, physical abuse, bullying, depressive behavior, self harm, hospitals, graphic depictions of medical procedures, and a car accident (off-page but described somewhat).
One of my favorite things about this book is how well it portrayed a teenager who had suffered through trauma. I was hooked from the second Andrew mentioned seeing “Death” — it’s pretty apparent from the start that who he is seeing isn’t really “Death,” but it immediately has you wondering just who he is referring to, then. Who is he so afraid of? He really is so convinced that it is Death who is roaming through the halls, looking to take him and others away, and his terror shines through. Andrew himself is convinced that these things — seeing Death everywhere, feeling a need to save everyone, being able to live in a hospital forever — are normal things even when they aren’t, and it was a really refreshing point of view to read that I just ate up.
Similar themes came through in Rusty’s character, as well. Rusty had his own trauma from being set on fire, and he developed a dependency on Andrew that played right into Andrew’s own trauma. There was an unhealthy element to it while they were in the hospital that they didn’t really figure out until later, and I loved how it showed how mental health can affect the relationships between people, both romantic and platonic. The resolution to this was really nice, and I really enjoyed seeing these two boys interact.
I also really loved Lexi and Trevor, Andrew’s friends from the children’s ward. I thought it was great to have Andrew make friends his own age inside the hospital to show him interacting with other teens, and I also really appreciated having a healthier blooming romance in the book to contrast against the one between Andrew and Rusty. Lexi and Trevor really contrasted Andrew’s need to be an “adult” who has to take care of himself and his need to be a regular teenager who likes to celebrate things and play games and talk to other people his own age.
Stylistically, I loved the added depth that the comics pages brought to the book. They were well-laid-out and brought an extra layer of characterization to Andrew as they gave us an extra way to see into his mind through his art. I also really appreciated the comics pages at the end of the book and thought they were a great way to wrap things up.
This book is a sad read. I loved the characters, but my heart was left hurting for them as I read. If you want something sad and sweet, this is an excellent book for you. Hutchinson’s writing really has a way of manipulating your emotions as you read, and this book shows just how much work he puts into his craft.
Final rating: 5 of 5 stars