17-year-old West is in hospital following a near-fatal motor cycle accident. Although West is not yet recuperated well enough to speak, a powerful connection is established between him and a young woman he meets, Olivia.
Olivia has scant regard for hospital rules. At one point she gets West out of bed and into his wheelchair, disconnects his breathing apparatus and wheels him to the TV room. She is very lucky that he is not damaged by this experience. The two young people communicate through blinks – once for yes, twice for no.
West begins to suspect there is more to Olivia’s story than meets the eye. He starts having dreams of a violent and gruesome nature. How are these savage dreams connected to Olivia’s story? In the rest of the book these mysterious links are made clear, and the medical destinies of West and Olivia are charted.
The book touches powerful and existential nerves. Olivia is discussing with West the ground-breaking surgery that may be required to remedy his injuries. She points out that what his parents want back is the guy on the motorbike, not the hospitalised victim which is all they currently have. The narrative explores the issue of what existence is about and what constitutes a worthwhile life.
The medical details of the two young people have clearly been thoroughly researched, and strike the reader as eminently believable. The attitudes and beliefs of some people in the hospital are as convincingly bleak as they can be in hospitals in real life. The credibility of the medical details and the culture contrasts effectively with the relationship between the two protagonists, where nothing is quite what it seems.
The scenes which take place in the hospital are thoroughly convincing. However, those few scenes which unfold in settings other than the hospital lack the same conviction. Books for Keeps readers may by now have detected this reviewer’s dilemma: this book is teeming with opportunities for spoilers and it has demanded exceptional care not to fall into that trap.