Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review: Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft


When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.
In life. In death.

Since the death of his brother, Jonathan’s been losing his grip on reality. Last year’s Best Young Poet and gifted guitarist is now Taft High School’s resident tortured artist, when he bothers to show up. He's on track to repeat eleventh grade, but his English teacher, his principal, and his crew of Thicks (who refuse to be seniors without him) won’t sit back and let him fail.


The Short Version:
Intriguing and softly emotional, Adios, Nirvana is a great mix of realism, pain and loss, and moving on. Blending the past and present easily, and building a strong connection between generations, this book ties several different story threads fantastically. With a relatable narrator and a strong sense of kinship between friends, there are plenty of last, memorable moments mixed in with the very well done overall finale.

The Extended Version:
Jonathan is a good kid at heart, but torn apart at the loss of his twin brother. The depth of his hurt and last effects of suddenly not having Telly around comes through across several fronts, making it powerful without being overbearing. He has some destructive habits, and a few things seem to be falling apart around him, but there is a deeper note of determination in him, even if it takes some kicks in the butt to kick him focused. The ways he changes as the book progresses are handled perfectly, without being included for posterity or without founding. The complexity of his character isn't instantly clear, giving proof to just how dimensional and in depth he truly is.

Jonathan's friends play a huge role in this story, having a strong presence throughout. The depth of their kinship comes through even from the start but gets clearer as things progress. They each have distinctive personalities and it's easy for the reader to remember which of the three friends is which, without having to stop and make sure. The way the entire group as changed after Telly's death also splashes itself across the pages in just the right time, showing their hurt as well without overshadowing Jonathan.

David, the veteran who's story Jonathan is assigned to write, is remarkably well done, inserted into Jonathan's life in such a simple manner while still having his own personality and mannerisms. There is a clear difference in Jonathan when he listens to David's story and writes his notes, and the way the story takes over his mind is understandable and interesting. The blending of David's story with Jonathan's, and the way the two can relate is heartbreaking but beautiful. There are some truly tender scenes between these two, and even more poignant messages that come out of them.

The plot of this one moves at an easy pace, helping to give the reader the same mindset that Jonathan has early on. Adding another level is the poetry and music angle, giving Jonathan an outlet for his grief and thrust in the reader's face. With humor mixed in as well, this isn't a constantly emotional and sad book, and Wesselhoeft has nailed that particular blend. The finale is so true to all four boys, and easily memorable even long after the final page is turned.

The blurring of Johnathan's days adds to the strikingly sparse narrative incorporated throughout this book. With instant amusement and intrigue right from the first page, Jonathan's character, life and struggles starts early and maintains fully. The voice is absolutely on par with the male narrative, right down to the passing, unexpected thoughts. Jonathan isn't a jerk or crude, but he is a boy, and Wesselhoeft has easily put that on the pages in a way that even female readers will appreciate and enjoy.

Source: Received for honest review from publisher
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children; 1 edition (October 25, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 054736895X
ISBN-13: 978-0547368955


  1. Kari, this sounds like an awesome book for my son. He's so into Nirvana and guitars, maybe it'll get him reading. Thanks for the review. Cheers! :D

  2. My daughter just bought this book the other night, and the author happened to be there and signed it for her. It sounds like an amazing read. I'll have to borrow it from her.

  3. I am glad that we both have the same opinion on this book! One of the best that I've read this year and I think the music references in it make it a lot more special. People happen to compare this book with Sky is Everywhere, but I haven't read that one. Hoping that I will soon!