Published by Simon and Schuster on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Literary, YA, Young Adult
Source: Finished copy from publisher
Destiny takes a detour in this heartbreakingly hilarious novel from the acclaimed author of Winger, which Kirkus Reviews called “smart” and “wickedly funny.”
Finn Easton sees the world through miles instead of minutes. It’s how he makes sense of the world, and how he tries to convince himself that he’s a real boy and not just a character in his father’s bestselling cult-classic book. Finn has two things going for him: his best friend, the possibly-insane-but-definitely-excellent Cade Hernandez, and Julia Bishop, the first girl he’s ever loved. Then Julia moves away, and Finn is heartbroken. Feeling restless and trapped in the book, Finn embarks on a road trip with Cade to visit their college of choice in Oklahoma. When an unexpected accident happens and the boys become unlikely heroes, they take an eye-opening detour away from everything they thought they had planned—and learn how to write their own destiny.
Ohhhhh, Andrew Smith, how I love thee! I was hooked on 100 Sideways Miles by the end of the first page.
I read Winger last fall and enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I’ve been enamored with both of Smith’s 2014 releases (the other being the fabulous Grasshopper Jungle, which I will review next Thursday). All of these novels feature slightly nerdy middle class boys with a distinct voice, a complex best friend, and a lady love interest. So like the novels of John Green, there are some similar tropes across these three novels. But Andrew Smith excels when it comes to writing male protagonists who feel authentically teenage and authentically male. These are the male characters with whom actual teenage boys can identify.
And Finn Easton is a protagonist with whom I definitely identified. Here’s what you need to know about Finn Easton:
- When he was too young to remember, a dead horse fell off a bridge, killing his mother and breaking Finn’s back.
- As a result of the falling horse, Finn has a surgery scar that looks like this :|: on his back and experiences seizures.
- After this incident, Finn’s dad wrote a best-selling novel about aliens who arrive on earth via Lazarus Doors. The protagonist in the novel shares a lot of similarities to Finn. Real Finn does not think this is coincidence.
- Finn’s best friend, Cade, is a riot. He’s also obsessed with talking about erections.
- Finn lives the San Francisquito Canyon, where the St. Francis Dam Disaster killed hundreds of people in 1928.
- Finn is in love with Julia Bishop.
This is a novel full of quirk, but also full of all the messy “figure out life” stuff that happens when one is sixteen. Is Finn destined to be just like the Finn in his father’s novel? What does sex feel like…and how many condoms does one bring to such an event? What happens to atoms and energy when something dies and gets released back to the universe? Finn sees time as the miles earth travels through space, and Finn knows that things can change in the span of a few short miles (approximately 20 miles a second).
One thing I have to tell you up front is that not a lot actually happens in 100 Sideways Miles. The blurb alerts to a roadtrip, which takes place in the last 20% of the story and is not the focus on the plot. Rather, the novel covers several quirky incidents that happen as Finn falls for Julia Bishop and tries to figure out if his life is passive or active. Though not a lot actually happens, I was never bored. The short sections, hilarious quotes, and overall connections between these incidences and the major themes of the story kept me hooked. I liked Finn. I liked Cade. And I liked every word of getting to join in on their mini-adventures.
Throughout the story, Finn does experience several seizures. He has these quite frequently, with a standard set of symptoms: smelling sweet flowers, blacking out for about an hour, peeing himself, and awakening with an uncontrollable angry attitude. These seizures are a huge reason why Finn feels his life is not his own. I do worry that this portrayal of seizures could be a bit problematic because I’m not sure how accurate they are. Apparently seizures are different for everyone, though, so Smith has some wiggle room with the exact experiences his gives to Finn. What felt most realistic here were Finn’s feels about these events. He experiences anger, embarrassment, and frustration when his body is taken over by his neurological disability.
FINAL GRADE: A
I loved this book. There are very few authors whose writing I enjoy as much as their characters, themes, and plots. Andrew Smith is definitely one of them. He’s now on my auto-buy list, right under AS King. My only regret is that I did not get Smith to sign my copy of the book when I saw him speak at the ALAN conference this year (that’s where I got the book). 100 Sideways Miles is one of the best 2014 releases I’ve read, and I highly recommend it to fans of John Green, AS King, and John Corey Whaley and anyone who likes smart, funny books with depth.