Westlake Soul used to be a surfer dude with a beautiful girlfriend. Now, after a tragic accident, he’s trapped inside himself, living in a permanent vegetative state but with the ability to project his consciousness outside himself and to communicate with his dog (although it must be stated that, as we read the book, we begin to wonder if these are true abilities, or imagined). As he approaches the end of his life—it seems inevitable that his parents will decide to remove his feeding tube and let him die—Westlake realizes that he’s running out of time to find a way to prove that, deep down inside, he’s still himself. Remarkably, Youers sells his premise completely; we don’t even ask how Westlake, unable to communicate in any way, is managing to tell us his story With thematic similarities to Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, this imaginative mix of fantasy and reality combines highly dramatic subject matter with a narrative touch that is surprisingly light and funny. The ending, though, is haunting and more than a little emotionally charged. A daring and completely successful book.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, April 2012