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For someone who can’t feel pain, David Hart has been through a lot. David has anhidrosis, or CIPA for short --- a congenital insensitivity to pain. It’s extremely rare. It’s lifelong. There is no cure. And one more thing about CIPA: it’s basically fatal.

Pain is something that most people take for granted. We know the stove is burning hot so we pull our hand away. We know a muscle is torn so we stop moving. We know that a day is bitterly, bitterly cold so we wear a jacket. We know something hurts, so we respond.

And without pain, it turns out, your life is forever altered. Most children born with CIPA don’t live beyond three years, and the maximum lifespan is about 25. At age 17, David knows he doesn’t have much time left, so he comes up with a bucket list: Meet a girl I really like. Get my driver’s license. Feel pain. Find my parents and laugh in their faces. See something spectacular. David walks with a cane and has a multitude of scars from injuries --- some self-inflicted, some accidental --- that he’s never felt. The smallest thing could kill him… and he wants to do something before his time runs out.

David’s conflict is internal and riveting. He’s a very sympathetic character, and his striving to really live is something we have all felt.

Enter Luna. She’s a pretty, sarcastic, somehow kind girl hired to be David’s new personal assistant. Basically, she keeps him from being injured, which can be a pretty boring job, seeing as David doesn’t do much. He lives with his grandmother since his parents abandoned him years ago. Even after an investigative detective was hired, nothing much was turned up --- that David knew about. But his grandmother’s dementia is growing and her health is failing. David is left mostly alone, but slowly, step by step, he’s taking the risks and reaching towards “normal.” And reference number one on the bucket list: he’d like Luna to take those steps with him.

All David wants to do is live his life. Gradually, gradually, leaping and bounding and breathtakingly, he’s becoming someone who can do that, even without pain.

For the larger part of the book, I felt very disconnected to the main character. The narrative is dreamy and impassive. It does fit David’s struggle to shake off his seclusion and apathy, but it also leaves a somewhat random feeling to many events of the book. David’s voice is almost robotic, yet it shows the way that pain affects every part of our lives. He doesn’t understand what pain is, physically, but he experiences it every day, emotionally.

Yet for all this disconnect, I found myself caring. David’s conflict is internal and riveting. He’s a very sympathetic character, and his striving to really live is something we have all felt. I thought it was both fascinating and sad how people had to use words to describe sensations to David, sensations that most of us wouldn’t ever think about. When David had just seriously injured himself, his grandfather told David that the pain he should be feeling was as much as it hurt to have his dad never come back.

It’s a moving story, one that made me more grateful for what I have. I read past midnight to find out how David’s story ended --- and the ending was worth it. S. A. Harazin has written a story that is hard to read, because PAINLESS highlights the things we take for granted --- family, friends, home, life, pain --- and how hollowly devastated a person can be in their absence. She has also written a story that shows the triumph of one boy in his painful, sweet, hopeful, painless life.

Reviewed by Mary M., Teen Board Member on March 11, 2015

by S. A. Harazin

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Health, Romance, Young Adult 14+
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
  • ISBN-10: 0807562882
  • ISBN-13: 9780807562888