Today I will review the book You’re Not Dead by Ontarian Jason Garden, which surfaced in 2016 as is published by FriesenPress. Subtitled, “the story of a boy”, this book is a fairly brisk but rather intense read at 73 pages, and is an autobiography / personal memoir. What is it about? We’ll get right to that. Below is a picture of the author himself, who is dubbed “The Hero” in the context of the book. He has been in a bunch of bands, and is fairly music obsessed.
Like I said, this book was fairly intense to read for a number of reasons, really. The main reason being that You’re Not Dead chronicles Jason’s journey through contracting viral meningoencephalitis. “What’s that?” you might ask. I’m by no means any kind of medical expert (so I can’t really explain what it is exactly), but, suffice it to say, it sucks. It has something to do with inflammation around the brain, and it definitely fucks you up bad, or it kills you, as is usually the case.
Some similar viral conditions to this illness include fun stuff like West Nile and Epstein-Barr. If you read the book, Jason gives you the inside scoop on contracting viral meningoencephalitis and living through it, which is the amazing part. Calling himself “the Hero” throughout the book, I feel, is equal parts giving himself credit for making it through the ordeal and, also, a bit of dark sarcasm, which the book is packed with.
Now, when I say it is amazing that he lived through it, that doesn’t mean the book is particularly jam packed with good times in the process of him not dying. In fact, it’s more like the opposite. Sadness, grief, confusion, depression, anger, and boredom are but a few of the feelings that are part of the narrative here. Once you get a sense of what went down, it isn’t surprising at all to encounter these types of emotions in this book. Unlike some other illnesses, viral meningoecephalitis basically just randomly hits you one day, like a flu, but it ain’t no flu. There’s no real way one can prevent or avoid it, so far as I can tell.
Surviving this illness is extremely rare, and, in Jason’s case, he seems to write this book in a way that is both fairly matter-of-fact and darkly humorous around the situation, and yet he also gives the proverbial middle finger to the forces that treated him like he was already dead, or had just given up him. These negative forces include the illness itself, and certain people who may have written him off during the process of him coming “back from the grave”, so to speak.
As I dug into book, it seemed at first to be about one guy facing off with a supposedly fatal illness and how he managed to come out the other side. But, there are other things afoot in this story. For instance, the book points out some of the drawbacks with the Canadian health care system that exist. Jason does this by simply talking about what is was like to go through that system with this type of illness, and the inadequacies quickly show themselves.
As with other large systems, there usually isn’t one single individual to blame for all the problems a person will face when they have to deal with such a large and often disorganized entity, making it all the more frustrating to be “processed” in this way. That said, I got the sense that there are people working within the health care system that probably (definitely) shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Another topic this book can’t help but touch upon is mobility, or lack thereof. Jason began the story as being able to use his body fully, and then, as the story progresses, he finds himself in various states of having his mobility restricted in one way or another. Reading along, you can definitely see how our mobility is such huge part of how we see the world, as Jason effectively describes what it’s like to have mobility taken away, and then the huge struggle to get it back. This aspect of the story is both inspiring and very frustrating to read about.
I’d say that if you want an unflinching account of a situation that you don’t hear about too often, meaning contracting and beating viral meningoencephalitis, then this book is for you. Its not meant to be “entertaining”, but it is compelling and far from boring…and, actually, it’s also kind of entertaining, mainly due to the fact that the author’s sense of humour remains intact despite the situation at hand being quite harrowing. Another way to describe this book would be “enlightening”, as it definitely provided a very different perspective on things that you won’t find anywhere else.
In addition, you can see what’s new with Jason Garden on his blog Wheelchair Hero. He’s into music, writing, writing, music, and music. Check it out!