A Matter of Life and Death or Something by Ben Stephenson

A Matter of Life and Death or Something, Ben Stephenson

Douglas & McIntyre, 264 pages

ISBN 1926812719

Arthur Williams is a ten year old boy who feels adrift in the universe.  He lives with his adoptive father, Simon, and they see a lot of his confident, cheerful Aunt Max and her phobia-plagued husband, who incidentally is also called Max.  Simon, Max, and Max make up Arthur’s entire social world; he is home-schooled, and spends all his free time in the forest near the house exploring, thinking about trilobites, and imagining the magnificent adventures his real father must be having somewhere else.  One day, Arthur finds a journal buried under some leaves and begins to read about broken-hearted depressive named Phil.  When the journal suggests a possible suicide, it unhinges Arthur.  He sets off on a mission to discover what happened to Phil, and if Phil is still alive, to track him down and keep him in the land of the living.  The quest, of course, is as much about Arthur as it is about Phil, and what Arthur doesn’t expect is that he saves himself along the way.

Stephenson shows a real gift for expressing his story through the curious and candid perspective of a young boy.  A Matter of Life or Death or Something reminds us that asking the right questions is more important than finding the right answers, that we are enough as we are right now, and that there are many ways to belong.  This book is beautiful and funny and true, and will undoubtedly appeal to readers who enjoyed Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. 

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12 Responses to A Matter of Life and Death or Something by Ben Stephenson

  1. Hi Naomi, this sounds intriguing. I love the title. Another book for my reading list!

    • Naomi says:

      Great! Hope you like it! It’s a new Canadian title, so you might have trouble getting it in the States unless you order it online.

  2. Alex says:

    Given that I loved the other books you mention then this is one for me. I was wondering as I read your review for who the writer had in mind as an audience when he wrote this. Is it appropriate for young adults?

  3. Naomi says:

    Good question. To me, it reads like an adult title that would work as a YA crossover. Because it deals with suicide, I’d keep that in mind when recommending it – use your judgement.

  4. I’ve added it to my Goodreads list 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      That’s great! Thanks for letting me know! You may have some difficulty getting it in Norway as it’s a new Canadian title, but they do have it at Amazon if you want to order.

      • I have an iPad, so I order all my books from Amazon. I even download People magazine every week 🙂 Makes living away from home so much easier!

      • Naomi says:

        Great! Gives you so much more access to international titles. I expect Canadian ones would be harder to find in Norway unless they were really popular.

  5. Hi Naomi, this looks like a great book! I’ve added it to my list of books I defintely want to read, I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time.

  6. Trish says:

    I haven’t read Thou Tortoise but I loved both Hedgehog and Curious Incident so I’ll trust your judgment on this one and pick it up if I see it. I do agree that asking the right questions can be so much more important and enlightening than finding the right answers.

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