There is something about putting your sunglasses on, hopping in a car and driving that just says summer. The music, of course, must be blasting. This means if you are listening to the eighties music that your dad puts on (seriously, I don't think I know anyone else, except perhaps my brother, who had whole albums of KISS and Lynyrd Skynyrd music memorized before they hit the fourth grade), or country music, which, to me anyway, is practically created for the sole purpose of road trips. Even if you are not a country music fan, go on a road trip, find a country station (there will be at least one if you have half a radio signal) and just try listening to it. But you have your music, possibly a good friend and the road.
And, while there is something so beautifully summer about road trips, it is also an indisputable fact that there is also something inherently literary about road trips. I speak of course, of the undeniable metaphor that exists in road trips or even just trips in general. You know, the whole "it's not the destination, it’s the journey" sort of thing that likely appears on lots of cross-stitched pillows. But, while I may jest, there does in fact lay a kernel of truth. Many authors use these literal journeys to parallel metaphorical ones. The perhaps most obvious example would be Jack Kerouac's On the Road. (I would say more here, but I confess I have managed to let this sit on my to-be-read pile for far too long. But it is literally about a road trip and a quest for self-knowledge. Even if I had read it I think my point would be made). Another classic literary example is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I did read this one. And I really wish I hadn't. It is my own personal opinion that if you actually loved this book, you are either a) an English teacher or b) a librarian. No mean to cause offense but this might literally be the book that I have liked the least of all of those that I have finished. But I digress, in the tale of the Joad's trip to California; there are undeniable themes of growth and starting over. For another, more contemporary example of road trips, we find John Green. He seriously loves his metaphors. Paper Towns has the most obvious road trip, and he has stated in one of his vlogs that he likes road trips because "they are a really good metaphor." (He has literally two thousand vlogs, so I really cannot point to which one, exactly this came from. But I promise it's there. Also, it may have been the inspiration for this post).
Without a doubt, road trips are deeply entrenched in the metaphors of finding yourself. But they are also light and fun, very summery. So, here are a few of my favorite books that feature a road trip:
Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Okay, so this one is a not quite a traditional road trip. It starts when a girl gets a letter, or rather thirteen letters, in the mail from her aunt. Getting mail from aunts is a fairly normal thing, even if the number of letters isn't. But Ginny's aunt had died a while ago of brain cancer. And the first letter sends her off to London with nothing much more than a little bit of money and some vague instructions. From there, Ginny is sent on crazy adventure all around Europe just trying to follow her crazy aunt's instructions. This is a terrific read, and wonderfully fast paced, and it is light and funny, although it does have its serious moments. I most definitely give this (and actually all of Johnson's other books, really) five out of five stars.
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
This one is a little more serious than Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes. A while before the start of the book Amy's father died in a car crash and now the remainder of the family is packing up and moving cross-country. So, it is a road trip from California to Connecticut for Amy as soon as she finishes the school year with old family friend, Roger, to meet up with her mom. As you can guess by the title, things don't exactly go as planned. Filled with great detours, including a quick visit to Yosemite, an ill-advised trip through the desert, and a stop at Graceland, this book also tackles some more serious topics like the death of a parent and a brother who is in rehab. Really, as the road trip seems to imply it is all about picking up and moving on with your life, even when something catastrophic happens. It is equal parts light and serious and it is a wonderful book. I give this one 4.5/5 stars.
Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
I'll be honest with you; it has been a really long time since I have read this book. But I do remember a tall girl who worked at a local shoe store, run by an old woman who, for some strange reason decides to enlist this random sixteen year old employee to drive her across the country to some conference in Texas (probably) in order to prevent the sale of her shoe-store empire to some corporate monster. And really, whenever you put an old lady in a car for an extended period of time…you know funny things have to happen. When I read this I most definitely gave the book a 5/5 stars. However, because it has been a while I will give it a 4/5 stars, just in case my past self was nicer about book ratings than my current self was (because I totally was). In any case, I hope you enjoy this one as much as I remember enjoying it.
In Honor by Jessi Kirby
Out of these four books this one is arguably my favorite. As with most of the other books it starts with the death of a close family member; in this case, Honor's brother, who was killed in Iraq. And, as in Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, Honor receives a letter from her brother several days after his funeral. It contains tickets to a concert in California and seeing this as a last request she decides she has to go. So, armed with nothing more than her brother's Impala, her brother's (still slightly drunk) former best friend and her trusty red cowboy boots, Honor sets off. (Have you noticed that so many of these books started with dead family members? I think that it's because the road trip is essentially the grieving process, all tied up into one nice literary package. Also, many of these books have very interesting passengers. Because there needs to be some humor in these books that start with such a morbid beginning. Really, to me it is not just the deaths, or the comic relief, that makes these books, but the ways in which the authors combine them to create fun books that also border on the serious. In all honesty, that's why I love road trip books). Without a doubt, I give this book 5/5 stars. Even if it doesn't seem like something you'll like, its only about two hundred pages, so it's not much of a time risk, even though I promise that it is worth it.
And that's all for now. Hopefully you decide to try out one or more of these books, or even go on a road trip of your very own. After all, reading and road trips…isn't that what summer is all about?
Book Basics Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Published: 2012, Amulet Books
Genre: realistic fiction
Star Rating ★★★★ Buy It
Short Summary- Greg Gaines is “casually friendly” with almost all the social groups in his Pittsburgh high school. He’s not really friends with anyone, except Earl Jackson, his “co-worker”, whom he makes mediocre movie re-creations with. This way of life suits Greg just fine, until his senior year of high school when his mom forces him to hang out with a classmate (with whom he has a painfully awkward history with) who’s just been diagnosed with leukemia, Rachel Kushner. This, of course turns Greg’s entire world upside down, as a forced friendship evolves into a genuine one.
What I Liked- This is an insanely hilarious book. It’s not your stereotypical cancer book: the characters don’t fall in love, and the relationships between them are cringe-worthy awkward. But this is why I liked the book so much. It’s real. It’s an accurate portrayal of the struggle of fitting in in high school, overly involved parents and the depressing void that is cancer. The narrator, Greg, is in no way perfect yet the reader finds themselves wishing they knew him in real life because of his weird (some might say twisted) sense of humor and relatable philosophies on high school life. All the characters were very well developed and delightfully quirky.
What I Didn’t Like- There was very little that I didn’t like about this book. The language was, at times, profane and somewhat excessive, I thought. A lot of the humor in the book is pretty profane as well. Also, I felt the female character, the dying girl (Rachel) was under-represented and probably could have been featured for a larger portion of the book.
In Conclusion- This is not your average teen-with-cancer book. In fact, that’s what it makes it so great: it stands in a category of its own. The hilarity and awkwardness of this book is what makes it so awesome: it’s relevant, poignant, and real. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is relatable yet unique and enjoyable for teens and adults alike.
Read It Before You See It- The movie adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl wowed at its Sundance Film Festival debut, winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. It’s out in theaters everywhere now, but I had the chance to attend an advanced screening when the library took JCPL Teens earlier in June, and I have to say: if you liked the book, you’ll love the movie. It’s equal parts humor and heart and will keep you in tears of laughter and emotion throughout the entire movie. Though the cast doesn’t feature a lot of recognizable names, the three main characters (Thomas Mann plays Greg, RJ Cyler plays Earl and Olivia Cooke plays Rachel) did an excellent job portraying their fictional selves. I also had the chance to meet Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler, and they were as quirky in real life as they were onscreen. As for how the book and movie compare, the book is (as it usually is) better, but the plot line is followed fairly closely and the unique narration style from the book is expertly placed in the movie. It’s a great movie, and I highly recommend it whether you’ve read the book or not. (But seriously, read the book first. ;)) You can watch the trailer here.
Also, if you liked this review check out my blog for more book reviews and recommendations!
NOTE FROM JCPL TEENS STAFF: We're giving away 28 Me & Earl & the Dying Girl lunch bags for part of our Summer Reading weekly prize drawing this week! Log your Summer Reading minutes before midnight on Thursday for a chance to win!
Image Credit: Caitlin, Teen Contributor
OH MY CLARK GABLE, you guys. I cannot describe how amazing this book is. I mean, usually I dedicate these blog posts to at least four or five different books, just so that everyone can find something they like. But this book…this book gets its own post. It's that great.
So, for one, it has a really weird narration style. It has these twins, Jude and Noah, who alternate telling their stories. But, the half told from Jude's perspective is four years ahead of Noah's. So there are all of these plot elements, like a major family tragedy, that would be spoilers in Noah's half, but because of the way its told, you actually already know what happened. At the same time, though, there are four years of the story totally missing, so you get to spend the entire novel putting the pieces together. Really, it's just cleverly done.
For another: the characters. They have such vibrant personalities. Noah, in his chapters, is constantly painting these crazy rainbow portraits. It colors the world red and green and blue and allows you to see into the mind of this extremely talented artist. That alone would make his chapters worth the read, but he is also twelve years old, and trying to figure out who he is. This is sometimes a painful plot to try and read, but I promise you that Jandy Nelson treats the matter in a truly beautiful way. And Jude. What can I say about Jude? She is a sixteen year old girl who has had to live through the family tragedy that has not yet happened to Noah. She is lost, and doesn't really know where she is going. Also, I should probably mention that she frequently talks to the ghost of her dead grandmother. These two are so alive in their respective chapters, they have such strong, unique personalities, it is impossible not to fall in love with them.
For a third, it treats real topics. Noah is trying to sort out his romantic attraction to the boy who moved next door, and Jude is still trying to cope with that family tragedy (which I don't want to spoil, even though it isn't much of a spoiler). There are also many other emotions swirling about, making I'll Give You the Sun an honest and beautiful read.
And it also won the Printz Award this year. If you don't know a lot about the Printz, it is an award given out once a year to the best book in young adult literature. So, if you don't want to take my word for it, some super-duper committee also thinks it is pretty awesome.
As for my rating, I obviously give it five out of five stars. However, when I keep track of books for myself, I have to add another category, because sometimes five stars just isn't enough. For these books, I assign it to my "Favorites" shelf. And if you didn't hear some sort of music in the background when you just read "Favorites" then you didn't read it right. So go try again until you hear that weird music that tells you the word is ridiculously important. And now that you understand the magnitude of that shelf, know that I'll Give You the Sun is one of the few books to have actually made it to that particular shelf. So it is dang good.
Go and read it.
You'll thank me later.