The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To

If you’ve ever seen D.C. Pierson’s work with DERRICK comedy, like the 2009 full-length feature Mystery Team, then you should have a basic idea of what you’re getting into with The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To. Both sophomoric and inspired, keenly observed and absurdly over the top, this book—marketed to adults, but essentially YA—is reminiscent of Pierson’s comedy…yet no less a novel in its own right. Though not perfect, it is a solid debut: while the plot can feel uneven, the pacing inconsistent, Pierson shines in his characterization and his impeccable knack for finding humor in everyday high school situations. At his worst, he is a funny guy trying his hand at novel-writing; at his best, he echoes Salinger and celebrated contemporary YA authors like John Green. More often than not, however, he falls somewhere between these two extremes, crafting an assured tale of high school nerds, rites of passage, and the most bizarre form of insomnia you’ve ever encountered.

The boy in The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To is, in fact, not our narrator, Darren Bennett, but rather his strange new friend—in fact, his only friend—Eric Lederer. While both are social outcasts, only Eric has been blessed (cursed?) with a quirk that is somewhere between a super power and a medical condition. Eric, as the title suggests, cannot sleep, has never slept, and is actually beyond the need for sleep. When he tells Darren this, Darren is naturally a little suspicious…but he is quickly persuaded. The two begin a friendship based on a shared love for sci-fi, and together they create an entire alternate universe for a fantasy series they call TimeBlaze. Darren is a talented artist (or “draw-er,” as his inarticulate classmates would deem him), while Eric has plenty of time to dream up backstories and new characters since he never actually, well, dreams. Their collaboration is going well, and their friendship is solid, when they succumb, naturally, to the greatest temptation of high school boys: girls. More specifically, they both fall for one girl, and this rivalry tears them apart. It also leads Darren to do a very stupid, spiteful thing: he tells someone about Eric’s condition.

Soon, Eric is being pursued by a mysterious man whose motives are unclear yet undoubtedly sinister. Both Eric and Darren suspect that the man wants to capture Eric to perform experiments on him; with no other choice, the two, who easily reconcile, go on the run. They hide out in the desert, where Darren makes a shocking discovery: the creatures from TimeBlaze are real. Or rather, Eric has made them real, dreaming them into the real world because that is the only dreamworld he has ever known. How can the two use this incredible ability to save themselves from their powerful adversary? Can Eric be saved, or has Darren ensured his destruction?

The final third of The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To abruptly shifts from realistic coming-of-age story to…well, something a lot less realistic. I suppose it is unfair to fault a book that, according to its title, is about a boy who never sleeps, but it is still jarring to go from reading about Darren and Eric’s girl problems to learning that Eric can create things in the real world just be getting really tired and thinking about them. Pierson ties everything together nicely in the end, so this absurd development should sit better with the reader in retrospect. Still, there’s something inherently problematic with the pacing, which goes from languorous—even a little boring—to suddenly high-octane. It makes the tone of the book that much harder to pinpoint.

In the end, however, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their stories witty, offbeat, and a little juvenile. Pierson reminded me of writers like Frank Portman and John Green, which I think is a good thing (except that, you know, the book isn’t technically YA). He’s a funny guy, sure, but he really impressed me when he proved himself to be more than that. The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To is at times more than its silly premise, deeper than its jokes; it’s about friendship, about trust and betrayal, and, above all, about celebrating what makes us unique, those qualities that must be preserved rather than destroyed.

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2 Comments

  1. I love that cover! Very cool. Sounds like an interesting read, too.

    Reply
    • The cover’s great—distinctive and eye-catching. It really gives a good sense of the book, too. There are some illustrations like that inside the book as well, at the start of new chapters. It’s a nice added detail, and I think it adds more to Darren’s character.

      Reply

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