Forced to move from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and still recovering from mono, 16-year-old Royce Peterson is down in the dumps. In hopes of saving enough money to drive back to Nova Scotia, he takes on the thankless job of caring for his cranky, 95-year-old grandfather, Arthur, who has suffered a stroke ("Mom says he's just understandably self-involved, being so old and all. I don't know anyone else that old, so I don't know whether old age always goes hand in hand with rampaging egotism"). Caring for verbally abusive and depressed Arthur is a huge burden, until Royce regains some of his strength and catches glimpses of his grandfather's younger self--celebrated cellist, owner of a 1956 T-bird, ladies' man, and citizen of the world. Harvey's writing is energetic, and Royce's snarky narration is sure to keep readers' attention. While the story is somewhat lacking in depth, Harvey (The Lit Report) avoids sentimentality and sheds light on the value of the past, family dynamics, and a person's ability to adapt to less than ideal circumstances. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
"Humour, insight and familiar landmarks will appeal to teens who may have forgotten that their grandparents were once young."
Greater Victoria Public Library
The characters pop off the page in this hilarious and touching novel.
Greater Victoria Public Library - Tracy Kendrick
"The characters pop off the page in this hilarious and touching novel."
What If? Magazine
"Harvey has once again taken the raw materials of teen angst and turned them into a gem...Bursting with quirky originality and wry humour, Death Benefits is a wonderful teen novel. All readers who enjoyed Sarah N. Harvey's The Lit Report will laugh and cry along with this witty exploration of the value of life."
Puget Sound Council for Reviewing Children's Media
"While Royce struggles with giving up much of his free time to take care of a stinky, grumpy recluse, he also learns a lot about life and what gives it meaning. Nice character development throughout the story."
Quill & Quire
"Royce's mother, dealing as she is with the heartbreak of an aged parent…must confront the issues of dignity versus safety, the power shift that neither party desires,…[and] end-of-life decisions, including euthanasia. Harvey pulls no punches in her portrait of a middle-aged woman facing these challenges…Harvey admirably steers clear of the cliché whereby a young person softens and saves an irascible elder."
"A wonderful, moving tale of a young man growing into responsibility and adulthood…This would be the book to hand to a student dealing with the lingering death of a family member but not because it will hand them platitudes and make them feel better. This is no Chicken Soup book. Instead it will offer the insight that other teens have struggled with these questions and pulled through, not unscathed, but alive and stronger…Highly recommended."
"Harvey's characters are multidimensional, genuine, flawed, and funny. What could have been a maudlin story about the decline and death of a beloved grandparent is instead a credible and insightful tale of a cynical teen, a crusty old man, and minor characters who add texture, snorts of laughter, and even sympathy to the story. Ethical dilemmas aren't in short supply, but they arise realistically and without pat solutions. For readers both with and without vile-tempered-yet-engaging granddads of their own."
"An uplifting story—a Driving Miss Daisy in Victoria, with a teenage boy and a cranky old man."
"Harvey clearly understands what it means to be a caregiver, which gives this book emotional depth and makes it an unusual and meaningful choice for teen readers."
Library Media Connection
"This story moved quickly and had very likeable characters; even Arthur was loveable. Harvey tackles a tough question with wit and humor. Royce is a solid teenage character who faces several hardships and manages to keep going...Worth purchasing for collections that are looking for books to satisfy boy readers. Recommended."
"Royce is a comical, likeable and thoughtful main character…Harvey strikes a good balance between humour and sensitivity that makes the relationship [between Royce and his grandfather] feel authentic…A good story with strong characters that will appeal to a wide range of teen readers."
Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries (SWON)
"At times both funny and poignant, this book is an excellent read...Brings up good discussion questions for older readers."
Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
Royce's summer vacation is looking bleak. A cross-country move and a bout of mono have left him without any friends nearby, and his old friends are not very good at keeping in touch. Now, the sixteen-year-old's summer job will be looking after his ailing grandfather, Arthur, a cranky old cellist whose only interests these days seem to be ice cream and soap operas. The more time he spends with his famous grandfather, though, the more he learns about the man he used to be. Royce is able to see much more that is admirable in the ninety-five-year-old and gains an understanding of his failings. When Arthur's health takes a turn for the worse, Royce realizes how much he has come to love his grandfather. How to show this love becomes a dilemma when Arthur decides he does not want to live in his incapacitated state any longer and asks for Royce's help. Though the story deals with some difficult issues, it never gets too heavy or preachy in its tone. Royce is an authentic character who faces what life throws at him seriously, but keeps a sense of humor. He and his mother have a strong connection, and his relationship with his grandfather grows naturally. The title may make the ending more predictable than necessary, but the story comes to a logical ending without feeling too formulaic. While this book is not a gripping page-turner, it is an enjoyable and valuable read that will appeal to many adolescents. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Royce, 16, hardly knows his 95-year-old grandfather, a world-renowned cellist and general grump. But when his mother offers him $15 an hour to be Arthur's caregiver—way more than he'd make flipping burgers—he jumps at the opportunity. Royce gets a kick out of Arthur's eccentricities, which include wearing Pumas to a special event and listening to the Pussycat Dolls. The two begin to bond in a way neither expected, but after several strokes, Arthur's health deteriorates rapidly and he asks Royce to help him die. Unfortunately, while Royce's voice is strong, it is not enough to carry the predictable plot or endear readers to him. It is surprisingly brash in contrast to the subject matter. A romantic subplot remains underdeveloped and the minor characters are two-dimensional. Louis Sachar's hilarious and moving The Cardturner (Delacorte, 2010) is a much stronger choice.—Jennifer Barnes, Gleason Public Library, Carlisle, MA
In this character-driven intergenerational story, Royce Peterson and his single mother have recently moved from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to help care for Arthur, Royce's 95-year-old grandfather and one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. After the curmudgeon chases off every aide, the teen is enlisted to watch his grandfather. At first the homesick, friendless and mono-recovering teen and his homebound, rude and crude grandfather are at odds, but then Royce gains new appreciation for Arthur—he caroused with Gloria Vanderbilt and Picasso, traveled the world, loved and lost loves—and Arthur begins to appreciate life again. But just as the pair begins to respect each other, Arthur suffers a series of debilitating strokes and asks Royce to end his life. Inspired by her experience caring for her aged father, Harvey offers a realistic view of the aging process, the difficult decisions left to loved ones and the need for friends and family. Sophisticated readers and fans of Joan Bauer's Rules of the Road (1998) or Louis Sachar's The Cardturner (2010) will enjoy the grandfather-grandson banter and tenderness. (Fiction. 13 & up)
Read an Excerpt
"He's impossible, Marta," she says. "Absolutely impossible. Doesn't have any friends. Sleeps all day. Watches TV all night. Never showers. Refuses to cut his hair. Pushes his dirty dishes under the bed or stuffs them in drawers with his dirty underwear. I'm at my wit's end."
I want to leap into the kitchen and say, "Hey! It's only two o'clock. I'm up. I've had a shower. I'm dressed. And I never put dirty things—dishes or underwear—in drawers. I leave them on the floor. And when were you in my room anyway?" I have standards. Low ones, but still.