Tuesday, May 28, 2013

15 Days Without A Head ( of household, that is...)



15 Days Without A Head
Author Dave Cousins
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Despite having a depressed alcoholic mother and a little brother who's convinced he's a dog, fifteen year-old Laurence Roach is trying to live a normal life. But when his mom doesn't come home after work one night, Laurence is terrified that child services will find out she's gone and separate him from his brother. For two weeks, Laurence does whatever he can to keep her disappearance a secret. Spinning a web of complicated lies for friends, neighbors, and the authorities, Laurence even dresses like his mother to convince everyone she's still around. By following clues, the brothers are finally able to track down their mother's whereabouts. And that's when the real trouble begins in this powerful story about what it means to be a family.

Review:  The trouble begins when Laurence's mom disappears or runs away. We don't really know why she doesn't come home, and the hours turn into days. Laurence, the older brother, is left to care for his bratty baby brother. He misses school, scrounges for money for food, dodges neighbors, lies and searches for his mother, all while trying to win a vacation through a radio contest. It sure is convenient he has phone cards to use at the booth! Although all the focus is placed on Laurence and his brother's two-week struggle, I was left wondering what drove the single mother to do what she did? The obvious assumption provided by the author is depression and addiction, but the actual turning point and precise moment when the decision is made to abandon the children is never witnessed. I believe a missed opportunity happened here. If included, it would have contributed incredibly to the story, both emotionally and psychologically. Without this experience, as a reader, my sympathy was lessened and my understanding, diminished. I felt I needed to see more, feel more and understand the mother better in order to relate to Laurence's bond and loyalty. Sure I cared, but I wasn't all that invested. 

15 Days Without A Head is a decent, steady read that would fit well in a school library or used as a classroom reader. In fact, it's as if the book was purposefully written with this demographic in mind. I wouldn't be surprised if this one ended up on summer reading lists and those approved to be selected for book reports. It touches on several domestic issues that impact families, but without the nitty-gritty imaginary that could ruffle educational planning boards. Simply put, this book is as safe as an after school special, but does it really portray reality? It provides obvious themes that can be easily selected for discussion without profound exploration. The plot leads to formulaic questions such as what should/could have Laurence done in this situation? What was the better choice? 

I understand some topics can pack a powerful punch without the use of over-the-top violence or shocking situations, but despite the subject matter, 15 Days Without A Head is too sterile and transparent for my taste. Compared to the newly released Sketchy by Olivia Samms, where thematically the multi-layered plot addresses issues of drug abuse, recovery and neglect in a way that is also neither too graphic or shocking, 15 Days Without A Head cannot contend with similar, but harder-working novels.   

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*ARC provided by Flux Books courtesy of NetGalley

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