The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is tragic in a way that could dissolve into nothing but despair, depression, and hopelessness. Andrew has lost his entire family – mother, father, sister – in a car accident. To say his life changes completely in that moment would be Master-of-the-Obvious-level stupid, but his world not only changes entirely, it shrinks down to the confines of the halls of Roanoke Hospital. The outside world disappears and all that remains is the daily grind of emergency rooms, and children’s cancer wards, and late night donut runs at the nurses’ station. Andrew withdraws from everything he has ever known: his identify, his dreams, his life outside of the gray, antiseptic walls. He becomes stuck in the present with a past he can’t deny and a future he won’t accept.
All while Death chases him.
I enjoyed the way Shawn David Hutchinson uses this character of Death as a metaphor for life. In life, Death is always chasing us, but it is what we do with the time we have before Death catches us that truly matters. Andrew is so lost in his present, so busy trying to cheat Death, that he is losing the time he has to truly live. He is stuck in a nightmare of not moving on and even the cast of supporting characters, from nurses who mother him to cancer patients who befriend him and a burn victim who loves him, he cannot break the cycle of grief, guilt and fear that traps him within the confines of the hospital, within the dead-end of his present.
But to remain there means Death wins. It would mean that there is no hope, no future, no way forward for Andrew. The breaking of the cycle is terrible and heartrending, but in the end it allows for the tiniest sliver of hope to emerge, like the slimmest ray of sunshine glowing around the edges of a thunder cloud. And that hope is what saves Andrew and allows the story to be more than heartbreak and gives us readers the silver lining we so desperately need after a story of such shattering loss.
Read this story for Andrew, for the wonderful supporting characters, and for the ending it leaves us with, but keep the tissues close by!