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Adios, Nirvana

Adios, Nirvana

3.7 4
by Conrad Wesselhoeft

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    When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.
       In life. In death.


    When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.
       In life. In death.

Since the death of his brother, Jonathan’s been losing his grip on reality. Last year’s Best Young Poet and gifted guitarist is now Taft High School’s resident tortured artist, when he bothers to show up. He's on track to repeat eleventh grade, but his English teacher, his principal, and his crew of Thicks (who refuse to be seniors without him) won’t sit back and let him fail.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A 2011 ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

"Wesselhoeft offers a psychologically complex debut that will intrigue heavy-metal aficionados and drama junkies alike. Peopled with the elderly and infirm, crazy parents, caring educators, and poignant teens trying desperately to overcome death's pull, it mixes real and fictional musicians and historical events to create a moving picture of struggling adolescents and the adults who reach out with helping hands. Adios, Nirvana targets an audience of YAs who rarely see themselves in print."—Booklist

"Adios, Nirvana is a bit like road rash. It rakes you raw; gets under your skin; and leaves a few shards stuck permanently in your elbow. It is well worth the trip."—Richie Partington, RichiesPicks.com

"Scribble its name on a wish list, type it into your PDA, or pre-order it...because to miss it would be shame. This was (without a doubt) the BEST book I have read in a year, and if I could give it 6 stars I would. Get it, live, it, love it...pass it on."—Misty Baker, Kindleobsessed.com blog

"At heart, Adios, Nirvana is everything I'd hoped The Catcher in the Rye would be...Adios, Nirvana is fresh, it's impossible not to feel sympathy for Jonathan and I find myself really wanting to keep reading to see if he can successfully battle his demons. Laced with details into things teens are exposed to on a regular basis—drinking, suicidal thoughts, depression and music, most of all the music—I really loved every minute of Jonathan's coming-of-age tale."—Roundtable Reviews

"Homage to poetry, music, friendship, and youth, this brash, hip story should attract its share of skater dudes and guitar jammers."—School Library Journal

"Jonathan's narration is all about style, moving between clipped, one-line sentences and heavily imagistic rhapsodies influenced by his heroes Charles Bukowski and Walt Whitman, soaring often into descriptions of his music and the atmospheric West Seattle milieu that colors his sensibilities and returning frequently to Homeric allusion."—The Bulletin

"A wonderful blend of contemporary, historical, and literary fiction. [Wesselhoeft's] use of figurative language makes each page dance with images of raw realism....This is a poignant piece for older teens."—VOYA

Publishers Weekly
The grief that drives 16-year-old poet and musician Jonathan often clashes with the forced zaniness of the supporting cast in Wesselhoeft's moving but uneven debut. Since his twin brother, Telemachus, died, Jonathan has channeled his pain into award-winning poetry, but he is also on the verge of flunking out of school. His teachers give him one chance to make up for his missing work, on condition that he agree to perform his principal's favorite song at graduation and take on a job writing the biography of David, a dying WWII veteran. The improbable plot isn't helped by characters like Jonathan's negligent and offbeat mother, who works as a bikini-clad barista and plans to turn their house into a wedding chapel, or stereotypically goofy Alzheimer's patient Agnes, whose outbursts are too often played for humor instead of pathos. Jonathan's caffeine- and taurine-fueled writing sessions and his conversations with David offer closure to his grief and a lifeline back to normalcy. But Wesselhoeft's ability to deliver genuine emotion makes the book's inconsistencies that much more frustrating. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Jonathan's twin brother, whom he calls Tellamachus or Telly, died last year during their sophomore year in high school when they thought they were on the top of the world. Jonathan, struggling with his loss, and is now in jeopardy of flunking his junior year. His friends, whom he calls his thicks, are trying to help him sort things out, as is his school principal, Gupti R. Jacobson, PhD. Last year he won a major poetry award, but he dismisses that as a fluke. Telly was the talented one; a standout guitar player and skateboard rider. Jonathan was happy being his shadow. But now he is floundering. The principal and his English teacher, Dr. Robert Bramwell (a.k.a. Birdwell) team up to get Jonathan to believe in himself and in living. Birdwell gets him a job ghost writing an elderly World War II veteran's war story and Gupti insists he perform a song from the wimpy rock group she likes. Reluctantly, Jonathan begins to relate to the world again and, with the help of all the people who believe in him, he starts to believe in himself. This is a well written book about surviving life's hurts and learning to thrive despite the pain. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
VOYA - Sharon Blumberg
Jonathan is a depressed and cynical high school junior who lives with his mother in Seattle. He almost takes his own life while he grieves over the recent death of his twin brother, Telly. He cares little about things in life. His main support systems are a tight group of friends he has befriended since preschool, the Thicks; his guitars; a stimulant called Red Bull; and Vodka-filled frozen grapes. He writes poetry like the wind and plays a mean guitar. Jonathan's mother is pretty nonconventional. By night she dances to earn money, but her dream is to perform weddings in a chapel. Jonathan's father is long gone from his life, and Jonathan is in danger of repeating his junior year unless he complies with his principal's demands. He must perform for the graduation audience in June and write a biography of an unsung World War II hero, David Cosgrove. The only problem is, David is an ailing, old blind man who resides inside a hospice. Can Jonathan fulfill this daunting request? What could Jonathan possibly have in common with David? Yet in the hospice, David has his own support system. The author gives the reader a wonderful blend of contemporary, historical, and literary fiction. His use of figurative language makes each page dance with images of raw realism. Wesselhoeft guides the reader down an open portal of teen suicide and grief issues. This is a poignant piece for older teens. Reviewer: Sharon Blumberg
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Jonathan isn't sure he can survive in the wake of his twin's death after being struck by a Seattle bus. Telly's guitar talent and magnetism have cast a shadow that's hard for the high school junior to get out from under—how can a lifelong duet turn solo? While hanging with his "Thicks," the tight circle of buddies he shared with his twin, he's focused on vodka-filled grapes, the immediacy of sensation, and an epic poem to his lost other half, but meanwhile he's dug himself a hole tough to climb out of in the remaining months of the school year. He has to use his own substantial talents as an award-winning poet to write the life story of a World War II vet dying in hospice and perform the principal's favorite song at graduation on a legendary guitar donated by rocker hero Eddie Vedder after Telly's death. What's more, his flaky mom bugs him to scrape and paint the house so that she can turn it into a wedding chapel. Through a scary lack of sleep and bursts of activity fueled by NoDoz and Red Bull, Jonathan grapples with finding his own singularity and sounds. By working with the blind veteran, whose story of loss resonates with and amplifies Jonathan's own survivor's guilt, he can better face his audience to perform with the grit of Telly's ashes sharing the limelight. Homage to poetry, music, friendship, and youth, this brash, hip story should attract its share of skater dudes and guitar jammers.—Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA
Kirkus Reviews
Seattle high-school junior Jonathan's life has turned upside down since he won a major poetry contest shortly after his twin brother's death. His hedonistic mother, who works at the Bikini Bean Espresso Drive-Thru, and his Thicks (friends) all try to support him, but he's just careening through life, fueled by Red Bull and No-Doz. Jonathan fears sleep, when he's caught in the memories and music he shared with the brother. A bizarre intersection of amusingly oddball characters finds him earning cash by writing the biography of a Hospice patient whose life has been scarred by his experiences in World War II. In prose as overwrought as the protagonist, the first-person narration touches on poetry, truth, music, friends and death. The suicidal fears that are evident from the first page ratchet up the tension. Through a slam-bang climactic graduation ceremony that includes a priceless guitar, Eddie Vedder and King Kong, the appeal of the constant jitters and manic life finally fade. It's all kind of a mess, but at least it's a high-energy, appealing one. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)
HL550L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

"Hey, man, get down!"

"Dude, don’t be an idiot!"

It’s my thicks calling to me. They’re standing just off the bridge, in the little park with the totem pole. The one that looks out over Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle.

But tonight you can’t see a thing. Tonight, the world is a giant shaken snow globe. Big flakes tumbling down. The size of potato chips.

In this city of eternal rain—snow! Once-a-decade snow. Maybe even once-a-century. It’s piling fast.

We’ve been tossing frozen grapes at each other’s open orifices. Kyle is extremely good at this—can catch a grape in his mouth at fifty feet. So can Javon. They dart and dive and roll, catching nearly every grape despite the swirly snow and patchy street light.

Nick and I pretty much suck.

I dig the grapes out of the snow. Eat them.

They are Mimi’s little specialty, cored and filled with vodka. One or two or ten don’t do much, but thirty or forty—whoa! Kyle lifted the whole bag from my freezer. I’ve had . . . god knows. I lost count a long time ago.

And now I’m feeling it. All of it. I’m spinning. Delirious. A little sick.

Plus, I gotta pee.

I’m standing on the rail of the bridge, midspan, grasping the light pole.

It’s an old concrete bridge. The rail is waist high and just wide enough for me to perch on without slipping, as long as I hold on to the light pole.

I gaze up into the blazing industrial bulb. See the flakes lingering in the little upswirl. Below, the ground is bathed in perfect white darkness. It’s not all that far down, twenty or thirty feet. Just enough to break a few bones—or kill you. It looks like a soft pillow. Dimpled by shrubs and bushes.

"Dude, dude, dude . . ."

"What’re ya doin’, man?"

I unzip and explode, blast a twelve-foot rope of steaming piss into the night.

When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.

In life. In death.


Footsteps crunch up behind me. I know it’s Nick—"Nick the Thick."

"Hey, Jonathan." His voice is quiet. "C’mon down."

Just then, my stomach churns. I tighten my grip on the light pole, lean out over the bridge. My guts geyser out of me. I taste the grapes, the soft bean burrito I had for lunch. The tots. The milk.

Twisting and drooling, I see below that spring has bloomed on the snow-covered bushes. Color has returned to the azaleas. Another wave hits me. And another. All those damn grapes. And, god knows, more burrito and tots.

Till I’m squeezed dry.

Pulped out.


I watch snowflakes cover my mess. It’s like we’re making a Mexican casserole together, the night and me. Night lays down the flour tortilla, I add the vegetable sauce.

When I look around, Kyle and Javon are standing there, too.

Kyle says, "If you break your neck, dude, I will never forgive you."

Javon says, "Already lost one of you. Get your ass down, or I’ll drag it down."

It hurts. They are my oldest friends, my thicks.

And thickness is forever.

But somewhere in that snowy world below, Telemachus waits.

I loosen my grip on the light pole.

"Hey!" they shout. "HEY!"

My frozen fingers slip. Their panicky hands lunge for me.

But I’m too far gone.

I’m falling . . . falling. There’s ecstasy and freedom here. Somehow I flip onto my back, wing my arms, Jesus-like, and wait for my quilty azalea bed to cradle me. And my Mexican casserole to warm me.

I fall, fall, fall into the snowy night.

Thinking of my brother.

Thinking of Telemachus.

Thinking of Telemachus.

Thinking of Telemachus.

Thinking of Telemachus.

Thinking of Telemachus.

Meet the Author

Conrad Wesselhoeft lives with his three children and a big, grinning poodle named Django, in West Seattle.

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Adios, Nirvana 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Jonathan can never possibly measure up to his brother, Telemachus. Not only was he the more outgoing and popular one, he's also dead. On a winter night, Jonathan's brother went out on his skateboard to get him medicine because he was sick. A freak accident took him away from Jonathan and his mother. Things have never been the same since. Telly's room is sealed off, with classic guitars behind the closed doors. As with everything else, Jonathan isn't even the guitar virtuoso that his brother was. Telly got to jam with the infamous Eddie Vedder and be praised. How can he compete with that? Eddie even donated a one-of-a-kind guitar to the high school in Telly's honor. So when Jonathan's grades tank, his principal, Gupti Jacobson, agrees to his teacher Dr. Bramwell's suggestion. There's a gentleman at a local nursing home who wants to write his memoirs. Jonathan must write the story to counterbalance his grades. AND he has to agree to sing a cheesy song by Pinky Toe at graduation. Grudgingly, Jonathan knows he doesn't want to be left behind by his friends, so he agrees to all of the conditions. He finds himself at the Delphi House meeting David O. H. Cosgrove. Mr. Cosgrove's story unfolds as Jonathan struggles with the Pinky Toe song. But he also encounters an unusual girl at the Delphi House: Katie. As the spring rolls by, Jonathan slowly comes to accept who he is and that life without Telly must go on. ADIOS, NIRVANA is at once sad but also uplifting. There are many humorous moments throughout the story, but also times where you catch yourself sniffling. Reluctant male readers will definitely gravitate to the book with music discussions and war stories. The chapters are short and move quickly, making it a good book to be able to pick up and read a chapter or two in one sitting. And don't forget the cover. It's totally eye-catching with a burning guitar. What more could a boy want?
Jasmyn9 More than 1 year ago
Jonathon used to be a twin. I say used to be because his brother died less than a year ago. Jonathon is drifting and confused. His life is slipping away from him. The only escape he can find is in his poetry and his guitar, but they just aren't enough. As his life spirals further and further away down hill, he finds himself attached to the strangest people. People that show him that just because it hurts now, doesn't mean it always will. Jonathon is an amazing character. He's a "typical" teen, caught in a loop of rebellion and finding himself. His group of friends are everything that a person could ever want. They are there to pick him up when he falls, help him out when the going gets tough, and push him forward when he needs a shove. 4/5
Anonymous More than 1 year ago