3 out of 5 stars
I was given an ARC of this book.
I don’t normally read realistic fiction (the lack of dragons and cyborgs really brings me down), but I tend to make an exception for mental (or strange physical) illness. In this case, the protagonist has an extremely rare neural disorder that means he cannot feel pain. He can get emotional pain, but anything physical, like cuts, bruises, broken bones, just do not register. I have heard of these types of disorders before and always found the idea fascinating. Physical pain is such a big part of being physically instantiated that I cannot imagine being without it. This book caught me at once.
On the plus side, the little details David has to go through to keep himself physically in one piece without the usual twinges and pricks that the rest of us rely on to warn us of problems are really interesting. He constantly has to take his own temperature because he cannot feel himself overheating. He has to check himself each morning and night for bruises, cuts and scrapes. He has to remind himself not to chew on his cheeks and lips. I found those snippets of an everyday life with a very rare disease to be very compelling. It puts you in a completely different headspace and makes you realize exactly how much feedback we are used to from our bodies.
The main flaw of the book is that David and Luna (the female friend/ love interest) are not written very well. David does not have much personality aside from his disorder and his need to find his parents. Nothing makes him jump off of the page and compels us to really care about him. Same thing with Luna. She cares about David and is hiding something, but does not seem to have ANY other interests or quirks. Both fall flat.
David’s emotional reactions can also be a little unbelievably boring and insensitive. People die and he seems to not care much. He does cry, but the writing does not actually convey any deep feelings about anything. I did not get upset because the characters did not seem to. It is hard to care if the protagonist doesn’t.
I also found some of the writing confusing. It was linear, but there were jumps in the narrative where it would travel forward in time without really telling you until you were a few paragraphs into the next section, leaving you reading pages extremely confused about what you missed and what happened in the interim and if whether there was a printing mistake that left out a couple of pages. It was jolting.
Overall, comparable to John Green, but without the clever writing and emotional response. The best part of reading the book was honestly thinking about the logistics of a life without pain, not the story itself.