Hector is being hectored by an unlikely bully: a talking brain tumor. And it's not just a talking brain tumor. It's a know-it-all, pain-in-the-arse, jibber-jabbering brain tumor that names itself Jack, and insists on coaching Hector through life even as it's threatening to take his life away. It's a pretty good coach, actually. With Jack in control of Hector's speech and brain chemicals, Hector suddenly finds himself with a cool haircut, a new fashion sense, and tactics for snogging previously unattainable hottie Uma Upshaw. But when Jack begins to force increasingly questionable decisions and behavior, Hector has to find a way to turn the tables – before it's too late for both of them.
Delightfully twisted, desperately funny, and deeply moving, this novel is also the winner of the Booktrust Teenage Prize in the United Kingdom.
About the Author
ANTHONY MCGOWAN has written books for children, teens, and adults. His previous young adult novel, Hellbent, was declared "a brilliantly nauseating thriller" by the London Times. He lives in North London.
Anthony McGowan has written books for children, teens, and adults. His previous young adult novel, Hellbent, was declared "a brilliantly nauseating thriller" by the London Times. He lives in North London.
Read an Excerpt
By Anthony McGowan
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2009 Anthony McGowan
All rights reserved.
Well, that's what I heard. I don't know if that's what he really said because that was his first word and I don't know if he was just learning to speak then or if maybe I was learning to hear but that's what it sounded like.
I stopped what I was doing. What I was doing was reading, although I wasn't really reading, more just turning over the pages with the letters floating around like astronauts in zero gravity.
I must have said it aloud because some of the other people in the waiting room looked around at me. A woman with big hair and a face like a collapsed lung shuffled her chair a few centimeters further away from me, like that was going to make a difference if I was going to turn psycho and stab her. In fact, it raised my wanting-to-stab-her score by about 72 percent.
Whoever had said arsecheese the first time didn't say it again, and I assumed I'd imagined it. I'd been imagining a lot of things lately and that was one of the reasons I was there. Not the main reason. The main reason was that I'd had headaches so bad I thought the little dude from Alien was going to burst out of my eye socket. The first one came on while I was watching a music video, and my mum thought I was freaking out to the music, but really I was writhing around on the floor in agony. Shows how my mum's really got her finger on the pulse of popular culture.
I'd been in the clinic since nine o'clock. It was boring, but I didn't mind too much as it meant that I wasn't at school. Except that at school there'd be my friends to keep me company, and not this load of derelicts and mutants. Apart from the lung-faced lady with the big hair, there was a man who looked like a scrunched-up brown paper bag, and another with a beard that started at his eyebrows and went down to his stained crotch, and a boy with a featureless head like a balloon, and a youngish woman who looked like all her bones had been taken out and then put back in the wrong place, and a purple-haired old biddy who had something similar going on with her teeth (I mean, big ones like molars at the front and small sharp pointy ones at the back, and I knew all about her teeth because she kept smiling at me, as if I was the freak here, the one in need of sympathy).
That was me. I mean, that was me responding to a nurse in a brown nylon uniform like something you'd find adorning one of the mildly retarded — I mean "special" — shelf-stackers in a Tesco supermarket. You know, the ones who, when you ask them where the beans are, first take you to the Thomas the Tank Engine toddler ride and then start shouting at you about sausage.
I stood up. The nurse smiled at me, and for the first time I began to understand that my life was going to become less pleasant. At the time my best estimate was about 26 percent less pleasant, but I've since recalculated and it currently stands at between 98 and 99 percent less pleasant (you have to allow a margin for error). Although since that first day in the clinic there have been blips taking the graph both ways, but we'll come to those later.
"Is your mother here?"
I felt that I ought to try to explain, but I didn't have the faintest idea how to do that in less than an hour, so I looked at my feet. And looking at my feet was seldom a good idea as it hammered home the fact that what was happening down there was all wrong, meaning I had on shoes made out of an elephant's foreskin, and not cool or even lukewarm sneakers like every other kid at school. But I shouldn't say elephant's fore-skin, because Mum is no more likely to buy elephant-skin products than she is to go whaling. I just meant shapeless blue-gray school shoes, as if something big — okay, let's stick with elephant — waddled over and dumped on my feet.
I told my mum a whaling joke once. I said, "I went to the Wailing Wall. In Jerusalem." Pause. "It was rubbish." Pause. "I didn't harpoon a single whale." She looked at me with this expression of disgust on her face, as though I'd just shown her a boil with a maggot in it, because the joke bit of what I said was completely lost by the horror of the killing-whales bit, when we all should know that they are our brothers, and peace-loving Gentle Giants of the Ocean, even though nobody ever asked the krill what they thought about it.
"This way then," the nurse said, and I followed her into an examination room that managed to be stuffy and cold at the same time. There was a window with a view over the complicated rooftop of the hospital, all pipes and vents and skewed angles. It made me feel dizzy, and for a second I thought I was going to have to puke in the sink. The sink had one of those taps with a long handle so you could turn it off and on with your elbow. Or your chin. Or you could stand backwards on a chair and do it with your arse.
But why would you want to do that?
Well, what if you had no arms?
Then you'd probably develop cleverly expressive feet, for which taps would be a piece of cake.
What if you lost your feet?
Well, then you could use your knee, still much better than an arse.
So what if your legs were amputated just below where they join onto your body? In an accident with some intricate piece of farm machinery, a turnip spangler, say, or a hay thrummer, or a many-bladed pig-splayer.
Well, then you couldn't get up on the chair to use your bum, could you?
Aha! That's where the special chair comes into play. The special chair with a hydraulic arm that lifts up your limbless trunk, swivels it around, and presents your arse to the tap.
A man looking a lot like a doctor was staring at me. I had a nasty feeling that I might have been acting out being hoisted bum-first towards the tap. I'd always done a lot of that — I don't mean acting out, I mean the internal-dialogue thing. I sometimes wonder if that's got something to do with Jack, I mean how he came into being, how he was how he was.
"I'm Dr. Jones."
I nodded again. He hadn't said anything yet that I felt like disagreeing with.
"As you know, this is a teaching hospital. Would you mind if some, ah, observers sat in?"
Before I had the chance to mind, a group of gormless-looking students began filing into the room. Not all gormless-looking. There was one exceptionally pretty girl, with the kind of straight black hair I like.
It meant I was going to get an anal probe for sure.
I felt the electric tingle of a blush as the whole scene played out before me: the pink rubberized truncheon they were going to use, the sparking electrodes at the end of the probe, the giggle from the students at the farting noise produced as the probe was extracted, my stuttering efforts to say it wasn't me but the probe that made the noise.
"So, you've been having some problems?" said Doc Jones.
Problems! Where did I start? My mum was a hippie, my dad was nowhere, my school was a dung heap; I was bullied by Neanderthals and ignored by the girls, and my friends were the Wretched of the Earth.
But that wasn't what Doc Jones meant.
"Headaches," he said, looking at his clipboard. "Blurred vision."
"Yeah," I said.
Should I tell him about the voices, the strange echoing effect I sometimes heard or felt, as though I were being called from another dimension?
"Been a bit tired. Get dizzy sometimes."
"That's good, that's good," said the doctor mysteriously. "Why don't we have a little look at you?"
There followed ten minutes of probing, none of it anally oriented. The doctor shone a light in my eyes and moved it around, asking me to follow it. He stood behind me and asked if I could hear his watch tick, first on one side, and then on the other. Then he tested my reflexes, which I thought only happened in films. All the students had a go, banging randomly around my knee area with a rubber hammer. Then I had to touch my nose with my finger, alternating left and right with my eyes closed. Then I had to walk in a straight line, again with my eyes closed.
All sounds easy, doesn't it? Except with all those people staring at me, and especially the pretty one, I didn't do that well in the nose-touching and straight-line-walking parts. There were more questions, more tests. Did I know who the prime minister was? Could I say the days of the week backwards? Did I know my arse from my elbow?
Throughout it all I could feel myself getting more and more sullen-teenagery, and that's not my normal way. I couldn't think of any clever things to say.
And then it was over.
"That's just grand, Hector," said Doc Jones. "We'll make an appointment for a CAT scan, and sort this all out. We'll send the appointment card. Try to fit you in early next week. Or perhaps later this week. We sometimes get cancellations. And in urgent — Well, we might be lucky. Okay?"
And although I knew what a CAT scan was, I still had this quick mental image of a sort of Star Trek tricorder, only shaped like a cat, and Spock with his hand up its bum, passing it over my body and detecting alien life forms in there.CHAPTER 2
So I was out of there, none the wiser. I got a bus to school, and the driver gave me the eye, thinking I was on the skive, and I started to explain that there was something up with my head, but then I couldn't be bothered.
The trouble with all this was that I got to school just in time for morning break, which you'd think was a good thing, unless you knew what my school was like. Because it's called the Body of Christ, which is what the priest says when he puts the bread in your mouth, people who don't know it think my school must be all singing nuns and good grades, but it's not like that at all. It's full of head cases, and the worst of them hang out around the school gates, smoking and sniffing butane during break, and God help anyone who has to get past them while they're on duty. The teachers don't bother them because at least they're out of the way when they're at the gates, and they might even act as a deterrent to any casual truants thinking of making a run for it.
It's a bit like migrating wildebeest on the telly, where they go trotting across the Serengeti until they come to a river. And the river is full of big hungry crocodiles. So all the wildebeest bunch up, scared witless by the shadows in the water — you know, I'm not going in there, no way — until one of them goes for it, and the first one usually makes it, so a few more have a go, and they get majorly chomped, and then the rest of the herd dives in, and most of them get through because of the safety-in-numbers thing, but then any stragglers at the end get all eaten to hell as well, until all you can see is blood in the water, and a half-eaten head, and a slice of leftover hoof and a baby somewhere bleating for its mother.
So, yeah, it's a bit like that, but with less eating and more taunting, crocs being superb killing machines, but not naturals on the old repartee front. You can imagine them: Hey, you, er, aw, what's that word for a boy wildebeest that likes other boy wildebeests more than he likes girl wildebeests? Oi! Come back, I've not finished taunting you yet. Ah, no, Ralf, I've lost another one. Any chance of sharing? C'mon, man, a hoof's all I'm askin'. Yeah, up yours too.
Small brains, you see, crocodiles. A guy came to our school once, talking about them. He had a skin and a skull. I mean, belonging to a crocodile. Of course the man had a skin and a skull too, or he'd have looked pretty stupid, not to mention dead. We all filed up to feel them. The crocodile's bits and bobs, that is. There was a tiny little hole at the back of the skull. The man said it was the brain cavity. A snug fit for your thumb. Or something else. In fact I had a little fantasy while he was talking to the class, in which I was left in charge of the thing, and I got horny and as no one was around (in the fantasy, maybe a fire alarm or something), I gave it a quickie, but then the man and the class all came in again, and I turned around with my knob in this crocodile skull, wearing it like a Gothic codpiece.
Okay, so I'm back from the Serengeti, and I've shaken off the crocodile underpants, and I'm praying that I'm too insignificant to attract the attention of the sentries, or maybe that they've got themselves a really good vintage paint stripper to inhale. (Well, Cecil, I detect citrus tones, undercurrents of leaf mold, juniper, and MELT-YOUR-HEAD HYDROCHLORIC ACID.)
So I walked around the social club next to the school, my insides beyond the jelly stage, and I see straightaway that something a bit weird's going on. There's normally about ten of the morons slouching about, tangled up like they've just been puked out by a clothes drier, but now they're all staring in the same direction, their mouths hanging open. At first I thought they were looking at me, and that made me begin to initiate the countdown to crapping my pants, but then I realized that it wasn't me but the wall of the social club they were staring at.
Now, this wall was the main outlet for the creative urges not just for our budding artists, but for all the local vandals, and it was regularly daubed with lame graffiti and crude drawings, generally of genitalia. Sometimes inadvertent poetry would result. There was a brutal PE teacher called Truelove, and the two-meter-high letters spelling TRUELOVE IS A WANKER achieved a pleasing kind of bittersweet resonance.
Every couple of months the school or the council or someone would paint over the graffiti, but that just left a clean and tempting canvas, and a day later the same stuff would be back again, with maybe the obscenity ratcheted up a notch. So they'd finally covered it up with some kind of special coating that, in theory at least, you couldn't paint on, and the wall had been blank for a couple of months.
I turned and looked at it. At first I couldn't see anything. Then I began to make out the faint outline of a sinuous form emerging from the pale gray coating. It really did seem as though the thing, whatever it was, was somehow working its way through to the surface. And it certainly wasn't any of the usual stuff: you could see that right away. Even though I couldn't tell what it was, I could see the elegance of the form, the beauty of the line. It looked like a real work of art, like something in a gallery or a book.
There it was again. The voice. This time I stopped myself from looking around. This time I knew it didn't come from outside.
I didn't like it.
But at least it snapped me out of the strange trance thing I was falling into, looking at the whatever-it-was emerging from the wall. I quickly slipped past the guard of honor, who were all still staring like zombies.CHAPTER 3
The Justice LeaGue
I walked along the red-clay pitch. There were a couple of soccer matches going on, but none of my mates were playing. No surprise there. As I suggested earlier, they weren't exactly natural athletes on the whole.
Scattered here and there were clumps of girls in microskirts, pink legs whipped by the cold wind. They reminded me of flamingos, and anyone who thinks flamingos are pretty just hasn't looked at them, frankly, with their upside-downy heads and mad eyes. It must be a pink thing, I mean why people think they're pretty. But there's nothing so great about pink. Lots of pink things are ugly — you only have to find a porn mag on the back of the bus to realize that.
There was one girl standing on her own, not part of a group, but even more flamingoish than the others. She was tall and gangly and she had long, straight, strawberry blonde hair. She also had a port-wine birthmark in the shape of Africa on her face, and it was hard not to stare at it, especially if she put on makeup to try to hide it, which she sometimes did and sometimes didn't — the worst of all worlds, if you ask me. Her name was Amanda Something. For a second our eyes met, and I thought that she might have smiled, and I looked behind me, thinking there was someone there, and when I looked back, Amanda Something was looking down, and for no good reason I felt like a heel.
Excerpted from Jack Tumor by Anthony McGowan. Copyright © 2009 Anthony McGowan. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hector is an ordinary, 14-year-old geek with a minor problem--he's got a talking, self-aware tumor inside his head."Jack Tumor" is a darkly funny, original story that delves into what happens when your ordinary, average geek (Hector argues the merits of his attraction to Hawkgirl) is given advice, instructions and wisdom from a self-aware tumor. By having the humorous angle to things, Anthony McGown is able to explore some interesting, serious questions including life, death and everything in between. Humorous geeky references abound in the story and despite all his anti-social leanings, you may find yourself coming to like Jack a little bit as the story progresses.Unfortunately, 200 pages of build-up is let down by an ending that is little more than a two page summary of life post Jack. It felt like there could have been more to it than just that.
Very good book. ☜
Hector Brunty has a lot in life to worry about. From bullies to his mum's mung bean soup, life seems to like to throw him nasty curves until it finally takes on a new perspective (literally). When Hector gets diagnosed with a brain tumor, things seem like they couldn't get worse - until the tumor starts talking. The tumor claims it can coach Hector into creating a better social life for himself. The tumor, however, starts forcing him to do questionable things that make him uncomfortable. This makes Hector decide once and for all to rid himself somehow of the cancer. But how can you defeat a tumor that knows what you're going to do before you do? JACK TUMOR is a surprisingly hilarious book despite the sensitive topic it addresses. The characters are fun to read about and Hector's social life has a humorous twist to it. Readers will relate to Hector's embarrassing family, his school life, and might even feel bad for him at times, but will have fun laughing their heads off one page and then feeling discouraged for the main character the next. Those who like realistic fiction, humor, and books about surviving school will enjoy reading this book.