Westing accepts only the brightest and best of students, so long as they also have one problem: a diagnosis of the terminal Peter Pan Virus (PPV.) Noah is one such case. As he wrestles to deal with the drastically shortened timeline of his life and the mandatory separation from his family and former friends, Noah finds something unexpected: love. The problem? He’s supposed to be in love with his girlfriend, Alice. Instead, he’s head-over-heels for the erratic boy who runs a secret club. The more time they spend together, the less certain Noah is about Zach’s feelings. As his friends become sicker, and the end of his own life draws near, Noah becomes frantic for answers. To his questions about love, the outside world, and what gives life meaning and value.
First – in reading some of the reviews about this book on other sites, it looks like some people expected this to be a dystopian story about the mass spread of an incurable virus, etc etc, oodles of suspenseful stuff racing toward a cure or something and were therefore disappointed when they uncovered one huge issue: that’s not what this story is. If you don’t like books about emotions, this probably isn’t one you want to pick up. Because there are LOTS.
This is more an emotional journey framed by the pandemic involving massive amounts of teens infected with a deadly, highly contagious, incurable disease. Also, a meteor that might hit earth. But those are kind of just the story’s frame. What we’re really watching unfold is this boy who’s trying desperately to figure out who he is and what that means. To himself. To the boy he loves. To the girl who loves him. And it’s a difficult, messy, heartbreaking, amazing journey.
I read Ostrovski’s debut a couple of months ago and was simply blown away by the unique perspective of the story, the fantastically witty banter between characters—even in the midst of these heartbreaking scenes, these characters were cracking me up—and the way these grand philosophical ideas were naturally woven into the story. But that’s another review, which you can read here.
Point being, as I started to read Away We Go, I was so nervous. I was afraid I wouldn’t like the story. And to be honest, after the first couple chapters, I was still nervous. I’m not sure when I really fell for Noah. Probably about the time he started snarking about sandwiches. Possibly not until he met Zach. But then I was hooked.
There were several things about the story that really stood out to me as awesome. One being the incorporation of the play Marty writes about Peter Pan and Wendy. I loved how that became this thread running through the story and that final scene captured the central conflict felt by so many of the characters in the story.
When I was a teenager, I knew a girl who was terminally ill. We weren’t very close, largely because I didn’t understand a lot of the things she did. Now, looking back, I feel like I really misjudged her. I wanted her to behave like I did. I honestly never considered (not in a mean way, just ignorant, sadly…) what it would be like to be seventeen and know that you probably wouldn’t live past thirty and how that might change what felt reasonable, necessary. Urgent.
I thought about her a lot as I read this book. I thought about how there’s a real question, in the story, about whether or not the students should be educated. I mean, they’re all going to die. Is there a point? Is education a human right? I thought that was a really cool element to explore. It’s not deeply followed, but I liked even just the drive-by moment. I thought about her as Noah rockets down this somewhat destructive path toward trying to capture love.
In terms of the writing, I have to say that the way some of the characters had really distinct voices definitely made them seem real. Ostrovski’s writing absolutely shines in dialogue between characters. Amazing stuff. Moving on before I get star-struck and gushy…
So if you’re looking for a really heart-wrenching read with a lot of complex characters and witty banter, some exploration of moral issues and love, add this book to your list. See below for content information from the story.
Boy/girl and boy/boy romance and sex described in some detail.
Westing has a group of students who’ve formed a religious organization for support and faith community. The details of the faith system stay pretty murky, and Noah does not get involved.
A boy falls to his death. Noah learns two students have been shot. Brief descriptions of rumors about what happens to kids who read end stage PPV and are transferred to other facilities. (Are they experimented on, that sort of thing.)
Noah (and his friends) drink quite a bit of alcohol, behavior condemned by another friend.