It’s not often you get a “do-over” or mulligan in life, but that’s exactly what happens to Chase Ambrose in Gordon Korman’s novel “Restart” (2017, Scholastic Press). The first scene opens with Chase waking up in the hospital and learning that he’s had an accident that resulted in a separated shoulder and a concussion. But the worst is, he has amnesia. Complete and total amnesia.
That might not be such a big deal, except we quickly find out that Chase — who doesn’t even know his own name or recognize his mother in the first pages of the novel — was a grade-A, No. 1 bully at Hiawassee Middle School. And the school’s football star.
Once home from the hospital, Chase tries to pick up where he left off. Returning to school not knowing you were the top bully leads to some comical scenes when those students Chase bullied in the past run from him or flinch and he can’t figure out why.
His first day back, the principal also meets with him.
“This is an awful thing that’s happened to you, but it’s also presenting you with a rare opportunity,” the principal says to Chase. “You have the chance to rebuild yourself from the ground up, to make a completely fresh start. Don’t squander it!”
This just confuses Chase more.
“What is he talking about? I’m struggling to discover the person I was and he wants me to change? What was so wrong about the old me that now I have to be somebody else?”
Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective.
One of the narrators is Shoshanna Weber, whose twin brother, Joel, was the main target of bullying by Chase and his two best friends, Aaron and Bear, before Chase’s accident.
The final straw was when the three bullies put some cherry bombs in the school piano and they went off when Joel was performing. Joel was so traumatized, he left school and enrolled in a boarding school, which he hates. Shoshanna, understandably, detests Chase.
Another narrator is Brendan Espinoza, also a victim of the bullies. Like Shoshanna, he is in the video club. He is obsessed with getting a video to go viral on YouTube.
Because of a friendly interaction in the cafeteria the first day Chase returns, Brendan is one of the first to see that Chase is very different than he was.
One of the funniest scenes early in the book is when Brendan wants to shoot a video of himself driving a tricycle through the car wash. His friends refuse to help because they think he’s nuts.
Because of the cafeteria interaction, Brendan asks Chase for help recording with a second camera.
Chase not only thinks Brendan’s project is hilarious, he also turns out to be very good at camera work. Next thing, he joins the club, the very club whose members (the reader knows though Chase does not) he bullied mercilessly before his accident.
While Brendan is sure that Chase has changed, Shoshanna refuses to believe that. “Amnesia can wipe out the details of your past, but it can’t change the kind of person you are,” she says.
A second story line involves the local senior citizens home. Bear, Aaron and Chase have been sentenced to community service there (because of the cherry bomb incident). Even though Chase is excused because of his accident, he goes anyway and, this time around, becomes intrigued by all the residents’ stories. Bear and Aaron scratch their heads since, before the accident, Chase was just as rude to the residents as they are.
Meanwhile, when Shoshanna — who still hates Chase —needs to interview a senior citizen for a national journalism contest, Chase suggests Mr. Solway, one of the residents. Mr. Solway is an absolute curmudgeon but also a Korean War veteran who received the Medal of Honor. The only problem is Mr. Solway won’t cooperate until he realizes Shoshanna knows Chase. This forces Shoshanna to work with Chase, which she feels compelled to hide from her brother.
Speaking of secrets, there are a few more in the story that all come out at a dramatic climax that features Chase remembering why he was up on the roof just before he fell.
Chase has two sides of his life, one before the accident and one after. I couldn’t stop turning the page as I watched Chase learn more about his old self and struggle to make sense of who he was then, who he is now and who he wants to be.
The reader hopes Chase will figure out how to put those two parts together, and it’s captivating to watch how it all plays out.