Tacoma resident Megan Bostic spins a tender, bittersweet story in her new novel "Never Eighteen." Bostic was moved to begin writing novels after providing hospice care to her terminally ill mother-in-law. This novel revolves around a teenage boy dying of cancer.
The main characters are Austin Parker and Kaylee Davis, two high school students who live in Tacoma. Austin has a terminal diagnosis of leukemia and has been told he will not live to see his 18th birthday, thus the book's title.
The two have been best friends since third grade. As they move into adolescence, Austin's feelings toward the girl have become something much deeper than friendship. There is an element of tension through much of the book as Austin struggles with how to tell Kaylee how he truly feels about her.
The majority of the story takes place during a weekend in September. Austin has what could be termed a "bucket list" of things he feels compelled to do before his impending death. He does not have a car but Kaylee does, and he gets her to drive him around the Puget Sound region on his missions.
Some things they do are things Austin has always been afraid to do. An example is a jaunt out to the Puyallup Fair to experience Extreme Scream, a ride that quickly launches people several hundred feet above the ground. For Austin, who is afraid of heights, it is quite an ordeal.
Later that day they hit Seattle to visit Experience Music Project and ride to the top of the adjacent Space Needle, where Austin has made dinner reservations.
Many of the things Austin does involve getting others to realize they are not fully participating in life. Knowing his life will soon be over, he wants people to understand what a gift life is. He visits the mother of a friend who died after being hit by a car two years earlier. Outside of work, the woman has essentially checked of life, spending her spare time alone in a dark, cluttered home.
Austin knows several youth destroying themselves through substance abuse. Scott McPhee, 20, was a senior during Austin's freshman year and a star on the soccer team. Austin played as well, until leukemia sapped enough of his strength he could no longer participate. Scott could have attended the University of Portland on a scholarship. He went down a deep spiral of alcoholism, set off by some dark secret Austin tries to draw out of him.
Allie is wasting away from oxycontin use and an eating disorder. Austin encourages her to get help.
Juliana is physically abused by her boyfriend. Austin tells her she deserves better and should dump the guy.
Austin's parents are separated. He visits his father and his maternal grandmother, who has not spoken to her daughter in years, in hopes of patching up some of the broken relationships within his family.
The last part of the book is about Austin's final weeks of life. Too weak to attend school, he lies in bed, surrounded by family and friends. There is no suspense about his death; Bostic makes it clear from the beginning that Austin has little time left.
"Never Eighteen" is aimed at teens and young adults, but older readers should be able to connect with the themes involved. Anyone who has been young and in love can relate to Austin and Kaylee's feelings for each other.
The story takes place in and around Tacoma, so local residents will recognize many of the places Austin and Kaylee visit, such as Frisko Freeze and Point Defiance Park.
Bostic actually understands how to write, with a strong understanding of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Her book is a refreshing change from some recent books submitted for review that are full of errors in those categories.
"Never Eighteen" is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group and is available at local bookstores.
Bostic will discuss the novel at 7 p.m. on March 16 at Garfield Book Company, located at 208 Garfield St., suite 101 in Parkland, near the Pacific Lutheran University campus.