Away We Go - Emil Ostrovski
Westing is not your typical school. For starters, you have to have one very important quality in order to be admitted—you have to be dying. Every student at Westing has been diagnosed with PPV, or the Peter Pan Virus. No one is expected to live to graduation.
What do you do when you go to a school where no one has a future? Noah Falls, his girlfriend Alice, and his best friend Marty spend their time drinking, making out, and playing video games on awaywego.com. But when an older boy named Zach (who Noah may or may not be in love with) invites Noah and Marty to join his secret Polo Club, the lives of both boys change as they struggle to find meaning in their shortened existence.
With an innovative format that includes interstitial documents, such as flyers, postcards, and handwritten notes, Away We Go is a funny, honest look at first love and tragic heartbreak.
I have to begin this review by fully acknowledging that I'm a sucker for philosophical wit and nihilistic insights. I also must acknowledge that while I adore Ostrovski's writing, it is not for everyone (what book is, really?) I am a huge fan of The Paradox of Vertical Flight and was thrilled to find out that Ostrovski was writing another book. And then one day, an ARC of the book showed up in the mail and I just had to read it ASAP. I wasn't disappointed!
While I'm still trying to wrap my head around some of the philosophical discussions (I never did that well in philosophy at college), the witty banter between characters who are not only confirmed to never live past adolescence, but who are also waiting for the possible end of the world, is effectively introspective. There is a lot going on beneath the surface of this book. Sure, the world-building aspect is relatively thin at times, and the end-of-the-world sub-plot is obviously a red herring, but the point of the story is not the world (or its possible end). The novel is about the characters, how they understand their brief existences, how they interpret their feelings and relationships, and what the possible end of the world actually means when life is already on a deadline.
Noah is a nihilist who enjoys arguing with his girlfriend, Alice, and flirting with his friend Marty. When Zach shows up at Westing Academy, life for Noah becomes much more confusing and his views on love and the future of earth start to evolve. Perhaps one of the things I love most about Ostrovski's work is the complex relationship dynamics he creates between characters. Noah and Zach have hooked up, but Zach can't quite figure out how to describe his feelings for Noah. Alice, caught up in Noah and Zach's tumultuous friendship, is having her own crisis of faith. In the midst of these deep emotional moments, Zach has started a "Polo Team" which is actually a space where Westing student's can meet and talk about what might actually be happening to students when they are taken beyond the walls of the Academy.
The teens are supposedly getting an education at Westing Academy, but most of the time they are drinking, smoking, and screwing around. What can you expect from a closed system full of horny teenagers about to die? Sometimes they work on homework, and at one point they actually stage a production which parallels Peter Pan and yet goes beyond, examining the very meaning of existence and human bonding.
Though the characters can, at times, be annoying, they are purposefully so. Perhaps my only slight qualm with the book is the switching of timeframes. Though it did not entirely hinder my reading, I did find myself having to flip back and forth a number of times to remind myself what timeframe I was reading and how that affected Noah's connections with people and how he reacted to certain situations as he developed over the course of the novel.
I love this book. I felt my heart skip beats at times and also feel like it was being squeezed by a vice while reading about Noah's sexual escapades and emotionally devastating relationship dynamics throughout. The Peter Pan parallels (Yay! I made an alliteration!) help to tie the story together and enhance the philosophical components woven through the different sub-plots.
(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out February 2016)