Thursday, April 25, 2013

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand
“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.”

                        I’d like to thank the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog for supplying The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand ARC through their Little Blogger, Big Ambitions project.
                        Every book ever written, I want to love. I want it to be a gem, a euphoric experience. And when a book shows potential, only to fall on its face, tripping over needless scenes, unbelievable reactions… Well there are few things as saddening. When I finished The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, I wasn’t sad because of an emotional story, I was sad because there could have been an emotional story.
                        The core concept, committing suicide, only to come back completely unharmed, I love. It opens up a lot of interesting possibilities for a character. But when you have a concept as unbelievable as this, you really have to sell it. That’s probably where Galloway missed the mark the most.
                        Apparently everyone knows about Adam, how he keeps coming back after he dies. They’re cool with it though, I mean, nothing scary about a person who keeps living after blowing their brains out. You see that every day! And it’s not like Adam may need some medical treatment for compulsive suicides. That’s definitely healthy in a sixteen year old.
                        If you can’t read through my subtle sarcasm, I struggled with the character’s reactions to Adam. Since Adams don’t exist, I don’t know what the proper reaction would be, but if current attitudes are an indication, whether it’s sexual orientation, race, or a physical disfigurement, people don’t like those that are different. When there were strong reactions, they felt fake, insubstantial, like a movie set. Even his parents’ reactions seemed muted. I can only assume that having your son commit suicide only to come back repeatedly, would have serious ramifications on your psyche. Later on, this is partially explained, and combined with Adam’s self-centeredness, I could probably let it go, if it didn’t make me scream so much at the beginning.
                        Everything at the beginning made me scream. Between the characters and less than fantastic writing, I struggled tooth and nail through the first hundred, hundred twenty pages. Having to fight through that much of a book is unacceptable in my eyes. In all fairness, it did get easier after that, whether I got used to the writing, Adam’s self-centered POV, accepted the semi-casual treatment of Adam, or some combination of them. Or maybe something else entirely! But having to fight through the first third of a book is inexcusable.
                        Even after the period of fighting, I still felt like I was wading through the story instead of being pulled along. There weren’t any characters I cared about, many scenes could have been cut completely from the story, just nothing I was invested in. In my opinion, the plot did the one thing Adam couldn’t, flatlined.
                        I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book with so many scenes that made me go, “Huh?” For example, about halfway through the book, Adam is in a basement with Violet Courtland, an effectively crazy classmate of his. We have no prior knowledge of her, Adam doesn’t have any sort of relationship with her before this, and they end up having sex. In my mind, I’m thinking this is probably an important plot point, it will cause problems with Adam’s friends, and then nothing really happens besides one heated conversation.  What was the point of the scene? You brought in a whole new character to do what? This is only one of several different times the book glosses over or throws in an unneeded scene. Some can possibly be explained by Galloway trying to highlight Adam’s character, and his self-centeredness, again, but others are just clumsy plotting.
                        The book isn’t all bad execution. There are moments that show the potential here, and some very funny lines, which may be a tad too vulgar for here. The interactions between Adam and his “friends” can be quite entertaining in their honesty, as they sit by the river drinking cheap liquor. These moments are few and far between though, sandwiched together between excessive, clumsy writing, and rip-your-hair-out moments.
                        To top it all off, there’s perhaps one of the most unsatisfying endings I’ve ever read. While it may have fit in with the tone of the book, I was left wanting more closure. Doesn’t help that the preceding story arc ended just ten or so pages earlier, with a blinding case of deus ex machina.
                        Whether because of incompetence or inexperience, Gregory Galloway took what could have been fantastic in more able hands, and wrote what feels like a first draft. His intent is clear, and the message does come through, but it wasn’t entertaining. I’m excited to see what else Galloway writes because he’s shown potential here, but he hasn’t come into being yet.


  1. You have a lot of good points. It does sound very odd to me that there were be an incredibly suicidal boy who's able to reincarnate--and no one particularly cares. Either the book should be sent in an alternate universe where this makes sense, or half the book should have been about his parents flipping out and hiding it from other people.

    I'm also not a fan of random sex without consequences, especially in YA. I understand there are different opinions on the matter, but I think the majority of people consider sex something of a big deal, whether they're saving it for marriage or do it only with people they've decided they really love. Most people I've met, even if they do practice more casual sex, don't feel too great about it afterwards. (There are obviously exceptions.) But since GENERALLY people find sex has some type of consequences, YA characters should generally find the same. I think it's dangerous and unfair to send a different message to young readers who might have little personal experience in the matter.

    1. If it were to be set in an alternate universe, I think the idea would have lost some of its charm, or it would have for me at least. The fact that the concept (reincarnation after suicide) is so utterly bonkers, makes it more interesting. I'd ccompare it to Every Day by David Levithan, where the main character hijacks a different person's body everyday. If that were to be set in any other setting but out woirld, the way we relate to it would be different. The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is just the same.

      -Spoilers Down Below-

      At one point, Adam's secret almost does come out on a national level, as opposed just being known in the town. A video of him surviving a jump off a very high bluff is uploaded to the web, it goes viral, the media gets involved. Then it's resolved within 20 pages by convincing the public it was a hoax, which doesn't even hold up as an excuse. Great plotting!

      -End Spoilers-

      Random sex just doesn't make for a good read, unless you want cheap erotica. When the sex is only granted as much attention as a hand shake, something is off and needs to be looked at. When large dissonances are found between a character and a reader, or the general public, you stop and the question the book, pulling you out the experience. It's one thing if these mentalities are actually addressed in the book, making them part of the character somehow, but without that, it comes across as pandering.

      From a socially aware point of view, it's much trickier, and this really isn't the place for it, I don't think. To try to summarize my thoughts on the portrayal of sex, or any serious idea, in YA allow me to say this: Honesty is the best policy.

    2. I haven't read Every Day. But maybe it could also be compared to Before I Fall, where the girl relives the same day about 7 times?

      I agree placing it in our world vs. an alternate universe gives two different experiences, but it would have been something for the author to consider if he didn't want the condition to be considered very bizarre.

      Obviously I'm not aware how the hoax bit played out, but it sounds a bit rushed. If something like that got online, there would be video pros all over trying to prove it was faked--and it would be interesting if they weren't able to.

      Yeah, generally I try not to impose my morals too much on books, but portrayals of sex is one area I find it difficult to hold back. If the character really is into random sex, that's definitely a valid lifestyle choice, but I think as a society we need to look more into conveying the idea that there IS a choice, that people do have differing attitudes about sex, and that that's ok. I personally know far too many people who admit to not liking random hook-ups, think there's something wrong with them because of it, and keep doing it because they think one time they're finally going to like it. It's really unfortunate, and I do blame media partially.