Hank and Liana meet cute when he bursts in on her in a hospital ladies room, the crotch of his pants soaked with . . . energy drink. From the first page, The Half-Life of Planets doesn’t augur well for their romantic future. Things are further complicated by Liana’s vow not to kiss anyone all summer; instead, trying to reclaim her reputation, she has thrown herself into her planetary science studies. And Hank is more than a little awkward; Asperger’s syndrome has given him a music obsession Nick Hornby would envy, and no “off” switch once he starts talking about it. The perfect couple? Hardly.
But this odd pair connect and develop a friendship that lets each of them see past the labels they’ve been branded with to the real people inside. Authors Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin alternate between each character’s perspective from chapter to chapter, and when something new happens, or information is hinted at, we are eager to follow the clues and find out how each side perceives things. Both Hank and Liana have complicated home lives (they did meet in a hospital, after all, and neither was a patient), and Liana’s reluctance to emotionally expose herself runs headlong into Hank’s difficulty processing the emotional content of any message. Again, oil and water. Can this romance be saved?
The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m no spoiler. The Half-Life of Planets is frequently funny, and occasionally poignant. Hank is the more vividly drawn character, and it’s interesting to see the world from inside his head; he knows and understands his differences, but can’t control them as well as he’d like. In a wry moment, he comments on the oft-cited “wonderful difference” common to those with autism spectrum disorders: “My reaction upon reading this in the past has always been that anyone who thinks this, or for that matter any, difference is wonderful has obviously never attended an American middle school.” Half-Life is the whole package, a love story with a wonderful difference all its own.