Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12
- Grade: 8 to 12
- Reading age: 12
Royce (aka Rolly) is having a bad year. Not only has his mother dragged him across the country in order to be close to her aged father Arthur, a celebrated cellist, but he's also recovering from mono. When he convinces his mother to let him finish the school year by correspondence, he's left feeling isolated and lonely, and spends his time watching TV and plotting ways to get back to his friends in Nova Scotia. But before his plans can be implemented, his grandfather has a small stroke. Suddenly Arthur needs more care than Royce's mother can provide and, after a couple of hired care aides quit, Royce is pressed into service.
Looking after a ninety-five-year-old—especially one as cantankerous, crafty and stubborn as Arthur—is a challenge. But as Royce gets to know the eccentric old man—who loves the Pussycat Dolls, hates Anderson Cooper and never listens to the kind of music that made him famous—he gradually comes to appreciate that his grandfather's life still has meaning. Even if Arthur himself seems to want it to end.
About the author
Sarah N. Harvey is the author of ten books for children and young adults. Some of her books have been translated into Korean, German and Slovenian, none of which she speaks or reads (although she is trying to learn Italian). Her novel The Lit Report has been optioned for a feature film. She will not be in it. Sarah lives and writes in Victoria, British Columbia, where one of her goals is to get her heels to the floor in downward-facing dog. Visit www.sarahnharvey.com for more information.
- Nominated, Stellar Book Award
- Commended, CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens
- Nominated, Forest of Reading White Pine Award
- Commended, TriState Young Adult Book Review Committee Book of Note
- Short-listed, Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize
- Commended, Bank Street College of Education Children's Book Committee Best Children's Books of the Year
- Commended, Resource Links, The Year's Best Books
- Commended, Ontario Library association (OLA) Best Bets
Excerpt: Death Benefits (by (author) Sarah N. Harvey)
"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.
"An uplifting story—a Driving Miss Daisy in Victoria, with a teenage boy and a cranky old man."
"In this character-driven intergenerational story,…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."
"At times both funny and poignant, this book is an excellent read...Brings up good discussion questions for older readers."
Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries (SWON)
"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."
Puget Sound Council for Reviewing Children's Media
"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."
Quill & Quire
"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."
"The characters pop off the page in this hilarious and touching novel."
Greater Victoria Public Library
"Humour, insight and familiar landmarks will appeal to teens who may have forgotten that their grandparents were once young."
"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."
"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."
Library Media Connection
"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 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."
"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."
What If? Magazine
Death BenefitsRoyce and his mom have moved to Victoria, British Columbia, to be closer to her father who is a cantankerous old man. When Royce is hired to look after his eccentric 95-year-old grandfather, he gets to know him better and discovers his grandfather’s life still has meaning.
Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. Fall, 2012.