Are Mum and Dad splitting up? What’s with the hamster? And how to handle this brain tumor thing? These questions weigh on the 12-year-old protagonist of British author Greene's slack first novel.
Clearly, Alex Graham has a lot on his mind. One might think the tumor would be uppermost. He’s been having chemo for two years and is facing high-risk surgery, yet the operation is dispatched briskly, and the intermittent postoperative seizures are not that big a deal. Alex as narrator is intent on passing on to readers everything he has learned in class. A graffito on a bathroom wall gets him started on tautologies. He’s a precocious kid but hardly an endearing one. And while he may be a whiz in the classroom, he’s an amateur at reading his parents. They may have a spat or two, and Dad, a driving instructor, loves to kid around, but their devotion to Alex and to each other is not in doubt. This does not make for an exciting story. His friend Chloe, whose parents actually have split, does try to stir the pot. This is where the hamster, Jaws 2, comes in. Mum was supposed to care for him while Alex was in the hospital, so why has the critter lost all of its energy? Had Mum, Chloe wonders, been distracted by Dad’s possible affair? As Alex’s English teacher tells him, “there’s nothing worse than a narrator who doesn’t know what kind of story he’s in.” Exactly right. The elliptical writing style doesn't help.
Looming over this novel is Mark Haddon’s tale of an autistic boy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. This work is its miniature.