A Matter of Life and Death or Something, Ben Stephenson
Douglas & McIntyre, 264 pages
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.