Book Review: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
by Shaun David Hutchinson

Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night. His parents did, and so did his sister, but he survived.

Now he lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, he hangs out with the nurses, and he sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him.

Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, burned on half his body by hateful classmates. His agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside the hospital, and away from their pasts.

But Drew knows that life is never that simple. Death roams the hospital, searching for Drew, and now Rusty. Drew lost his family, but he refuses to lose Rusty, too, so he’s determined to make things right. He’s determined to bargain, and to settle his debts once and for all.

But Death is not easily placated, and Drew’s life will have to get worse before there is any chance for things to get better.
- GoodReads.com description

From reading the description, I really expected to enjoy this book. My initial thoughts were, “Could this be an LGBT The Fault in Our Stars?” And as I read, I kept wanting to compare it to the television dramedy, The Red Band Society. I was really curious how the relationship between Andrew, the boy secretly squatting in the hospital, and Rusty, the burn victim, would develop.

There were a few things, though, that I couldn’t get past. I couldn’t accept the idea that a teen could live unnoticed in the unfinished wing of the hospital in which his family died. Would the local police and the hospital staff be so incompetent? On top of that, Andrew is able to work in the hospital cafeteria and get paid “under the table,” which I found implausible as well.

I’m not sure how I felt about the characters either. Andrew is likeable enough, however, his personality felt a bit confused for me. He comes off both mature for his age and na├»ve. He shoulders the responsibility of his family’s death, but he comes to believe the hospital’s social worker is “Death,” and that she took his family away from him.

Everyone else that Andrew interacted with at the hospital was accepting of and acknowledged his sexual orientation, which was nice to see; however, it came across a bit idealistic. Trevor and Lexi are two cancer patients that Andrew befriends. They’re secretly in love with each other, and Andrew helps them come together. I kind of cared about their story, but I felt they weren’t as developed as I would have liked.

Rusty, too, seems underdeveloped as well. We learn that he was bullied and tortured at school and in the hospital because he was set on fire at a party. The only thing that seems to draw Andrew and Rusty together is Andrew’s empathy and the fact that they’re both gay. Andrew reads a few books to him and promises to protect him from “Death,” and suddenly they’re in love.

However, what I did like about the book was that it addressed bullying and suicide, which could serve as good talking points with young LGBT readers. Many LGBT teens, and even adults, could relate to wanting to hide from what they experience as an abusive, intolerant world. Also, I appreciated how Andrew did not perpetuate a gay stereotype. He’s into sports, writes and illustrates a graphic novel, and isn’t focused on his appearance.

Overall, I did like The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley and would recommend it to anyone looking to read more with LGBT themes. I’d give it three out of five stars.

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