Tuesday, June 21, 2011

THE DEATHDAY LETTER by Shaun David Hutchinson

From the jacket copy:

The clock is ticking…

Ollie can’t be bothered to care about anything but food, girls, and games until he gets his Deathday Letter and learns he’s going to die in twenty-four hours. Bummer.

Ollie does what he does best: nothing. Then his best friend convinces him to live a little, and go after Ronnie, the girl who recently trampled his about-to-expire heart. Ollie turns to carloads of pudding and over-the-top declarations, but even playing the death card doesn’t work. All he wants is to set things right with the girl of his dreams. It’s now or never….

Booklist says, "The reader is pulled along in Ollie's grip, wrestling with the big questions of life (and afterlife)....This first novel will appeal to male readers who care more about sex than philosophy."

I won this book nearly a year ago, when my friend Michelle McLean held a contest on her blog, and Shaun David Hutchinson sent me the book.

I owe Shaun an apology. I didn't start reading it back then (for one, it was the first book I'd ever owned that was signed by the author), but for another I got the impression that it wasn't for me.

When I finally started reading it last week, I got the feeling, at first, that I might have been right. The book is told from fifteen year old Oliver Travers point of view, in present tense, often breaking the fourth wall. It starts out as crass and juvenile, full of penis humor, wit, and sarcasm. This bothered me for a couple of pages, but Ollie's character, and his situation, were so compelling that I kept going.

I'm rather glad I did.

Ollie lives in a contemporary world where everything is perfectly normal, except that everyone receives a mysterious letter announcing their coming death about a day before they are going to die. Everyone behaves as if that is how things are meant to be.

So the book follows the final 24 hours of Ollie's life, as he tries to discover himself, appreciate the loyalty and support of his best friend, and understand love, as much as a hormone crazed young man of his age can.

I'm not going to give the story away, but I will say that this book is unlike anything I've ever read. The crass nature of much of the humor was a little groan worthy for me, at first, until I remember that I'm a 34 year old man, and I started thinking back to what I was like when I was 15 years old. Then it struck me:

This book, and Ollie's voice, are just about the most authentic I've ever read. And when you think about it like that, and let down your crotchety old man guard, this book is effing hilarious.

But it's not just that. It's subtle, and it builds up to it nice and slow, but The Deathday Letter also carries a poignant message about friendship, honesty, love, and trust. One that I was pleasantly surprised to find.

Thanks so much for the book, and your patience, Shaun!

I can recommend this book to any young man, especially those, who, like I did, feel awkward around girls, and just aren't quite sure exactly who they are yet. Girls and women may be turned off a little by all the testosterone, but if you can get past that you'll find a hilarious, heartfelt story in The Deathday Letter.


  1. Great review. I love when I pick up a book that I don't think is one I'd normally read and find I really like it.

  2. Excellent review Matthew. I love when an author surprises me... or should I say when I surprise myself but branching out and it working out!

  3. Testosterone?! I'm hooked! Oh but seriously - thanks for such an honest review!! Good luck with this book Mr Hutchinson! Take care

  4. Oh please! 34 isn't old. And what young man, deep down, doesn't feel just a teeny bit awkward among girls?

    But these are minor complaints. As per usual, Matt, you are both honest and authentic and you get to the heart of why a book works. That's why I love reading everything you write.

  5. Oh, great review Matthew! I may not be super into that whole crass humor thing, but I have this younger (male) cousin who loves to read and has a birthday in a couple months... hmm. I'll have to check it out. :)

  6. He would probably love this book Bethany! Any boy 12 or older would really enjoy it, I think.

  7. "Crotchety old man guard" = lol. Thanks for the honest review! I, as a girl, am a little sick of girl POVs, so I think I'll be giving this one a try. Always love authentic voices, even if they're crass. I know I was pretty darn crass when I was 15.

  8. I have to get a copy of this one - I know several boys who would love it! :)

  9. Great review, Matt! I'm glad you gave the book a chance. I love your realization, "And when you think about it like that, and let down your crotchety old man guard, this book is effing hilarious."

    I'll add it to my TBR list.

  10. I'm not like every woman so I might love the book! I do love books that have a great theme and some humor. Thanks for the review!

  11. GREAT review--damn I've been wanting to read this book (And now even more)!!