Delightfully Morbid: The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway39deathsadamstrand

Published: February 21st, 2013 by Dutton Juvenile/Penguin

Source: ARC from publisher

Synopsis (Goodreads): Adam Strand isn’t depressed. He’s just bored. Disaffected. So he kills himself—39 times. No matter the method, Adam can’t seem to stay dead; he wakes after each suicide alive and physically unharmed, more determined to succeed and undeterred by others’ concerns. But when his self-contained, self-absorbed path is diverted, Adam is struck by the reality that life is an ever-expanding web of impact and forged connections, and that nothing—not even death—can sever those bonds.

In stark, arresting prose, Gregory Galloway finds hope and understanding in the blackest humor.

My thoughts:As much as I like to be on top of the trends in YA fiction and as fun as it is to discover the next big thing, I also really enjoy discovering hidden gems and sharing them with readers, both in the library and here on my blog. There are some books that everyone is talking about, and often it’s for a reason. Perhaps this month’s most hyped release was Scarlet, the sequel to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. And as excited as I am to read it, I’m not in a hurry to write a review of it because everyone is already talking about it. What do I have to add to the conversation but fangirlish squees?  Even if I was really thoughtful about it, I don’t think I’d have anything to add that hasn’t already been said. The fresh spin on the fairy tale, quality writing, and enjoyable characters give Cinder and Scarlet wide appeal, and that’s great.

Instead, I want to talk about books that appeal to a particular type of reader and that may not be universally loved, and will be a perfect match for some readers, if only they can find it. I read tons of book blogs, and no one is talking about The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Greg Galloway*, which is a shame, because it’s fabulous.

For reasons never explained, Adam Strand has been unable to kill himself, and not for lack of trying. No matter what method he utilizes, he always wakes up hours later, alive and well. His friends, family, and the whole town know of his condition, and mostly just seem annoyed. But this book isn’t really about suicide: it’s about family and friendship and finding the will to live while recognizing the inevitability of death.

But even if you’re not slightly morbid (like me), there’s plenty to enjoy about this novel. Galloway has constructed a world within this Midwest town that is more than just a place. The banks of the river—with the the grimy angel statuary and rotting cow carcass, next to the murky water winding between factories that make wheels and corn syrup and pollution—was atmospheric, yet realistic.

Adam’s narration rambled, moving forwards and backwards in time with frequent asides. Incidents and stories were strung together. This isn’t a book full of action. There’s not a lot that happens. Instead, it’s best appreciated as a character study. Adam is so well-developed, and has such a unique voice, I wanted to keep reading about him, even if he doesn’t even want to tell me his story. Every now and then, he reveal something so wise, you wonder why he can’t see what a fool he is.

It isn’t just Adam that won me over, however. Each character is believable and well-developed. Maddy, the ten year old genius, was my favorite. She was absolutely endearing. Each member of Adam’s group of outcast friends was distinct and memorable. And the 911 dispatcher?! You are going to want to meet him. Trust me.

Not only did I love the dark humor inherent in this story’s premise and structure, I loved the writing. I must have highlighted half the content of my ebook. I wanted to share so many of the fantastic quotes with you all, but you know how you’re not supposed to go quoting ARCs. Trust me, it’s witty and touching, sarcastic and sensitive all at once.

I disagree with the remarks in the Kirkus review (below) about the teen appeal of this novel. Maybe this particular reviewer doesn’t know any teens who would like this, but I certainly do. Just because lots of teens do enjoy books with a more straightforward plot and simpler language and sentence structure, that doesn’t mean there aren’t teen readers who can appreciate this. I, for one, would have LOVED this book in high school. I do often send certain readers out of the YA section to get books if they turn their nose down at the “kid” stuff I suggest, and I have no problem doing so, but it’s nice to have a book nearby to hand that disaffected teen who is too cool and smart for most “teen” fiction.

I also disagree with its assertion that there is no romance in this story; though it’s not all about getting the girl—after all, Adam’s primary goal is to kill himself—he still does have very average and normal and still extraordinary attraction to his best friend, Jodi. Unlike teenage couples who feel they are destined to be together FOREVER, this is a very realistic portrayal of teenage romance. Yeah, the girl you like might make out with your asshole friend when she’d rather be with you. It happens. Just because it’s not a happily-ever-after doesn’t mean it’s not romance, and it’s okay for a book to not have the love story at its center. Lots of teens want books that don’t focus so much on kissing. Really, it’s true.

I’d recommend this for fans of absurb novels, like one of my favorites, Death with Interruptions by José Saramago (I’ve discussed my love for Saramago here). It kind of reminds me of Tom Robbins, in that ridiculous-in-the-real-world kind of way. Try this novel if you’re a fan of Holden Caulfield. (Personally, I’d like to see some 39 Deaths/Catcher in the Rye crossover fanfic where Adam and Holden get drunk by the river.) Those who wanted to love Perks of Being a Wallflower but found all of Charlie’s crying annoying (I didn’t, but I know some readers did) then this is the book for them, though it unfortunately lacks a soundtrack and references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (I’d also read some fanfic in which Charlie takes Adam to Rocky Horror.)

I loved this book, and if you like dark humor, excellent writing, and well-rounded characters, you should check it out.

Second opinions:

Publisher’s Weekly: “Readers may see something of themselves in Adam’s confusion and dark impulses, in which case his message is clear: ‘I am moving forward, inch by inch some days.'”

Kirkus: ” These melancholy descriptions reveal more of the story than Adam or his supporting characters. Adam himself is simultaneously provocative and off-putting as a narrator. His story is compelling, but he withholds. Herein lies the problem: Galloway leaves out the bits that teens would want to read about most: the suicide details, solid connections between Adam and his friends, a budding romance. All are either buried or glided over with a cool nonchalance that will be hard to follow for teens accustomed to titles like Thirteen Reasons Why.”

*seriously, no one. I couldn’t find another book blogger review, which is why I’m linking to Kirkus and PW.

6 thoughts on “Delightfully Morbid: The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway

  1. I was that teen too! And as much as I think teen me would have loved it, adult me did too. I hope you read it! We ordered it for the library, and it only took a couple sentences to have actual teens intrigued so it’s a winner in my book.

  2. EVERYTHING about this review screams to me that it is a book I will love. No focus on romance, for readers who DIDN’T love Perks even though they felt like they should, dark humor…pretty much everything. I was totally one of those teens who would go for this kind of book–I felt I was too smart to read teen book as a teen, so if it felt too twee I turned up my nose. I did have this on my list of February releases I was interested in, but I’m so happy you reviewed it, Molly!

  3. This sounds fascinating! (Even though I am not at all a fan of Holden Caufield.) And of course it’s the first I’ve heard of the title, because apparently it’s not one the blogosphere is paying attention to (yet?). Thanks for taking the time to write about it!

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