Michael L Printz Honor Book 2010
An award-winning writer and playwright hits the open road for a searing novel-in-letters about a street kid on a highstakes trek across America.
For a runaway boy who goes by the name "Punkzilla," kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all — from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla’s journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.
I am not the target audience for this book, and while that doesn’t usually matter for a lot of books (a good book is a good book regardless of genre or targeted age-range), this one did nothing for me.
I can appreciate the literary merit. I’m probably reacting as a mom of teenaged boys who would very much like to pretend that the kind of world the 14 year boy in this book lives in doesn’t exist.
Runaways, drugs, sex, homelessness, AIDS, death, prostitution, and on and on……the world is such an ugly place for some people. If nothing else, I guess this book is a good reminder for me of just how lucky my family and I are. And maybe a call to action to help make the world suck less for other people, if I can.