A heartrending and hilarious junior-high road-trip novel; a story about stepping up in dire straits; an exploration of grief, false exteriors, and hope; and a riveting depiction of a boy feigning manhood. These new novels featuring teenage boys offer coming-of-age drama with real heart.
Two teens abandon their lackluster lives and hit the Autobahn in the audacious tragicomedy Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf. Unpopular Mike lives a life of quiet desperation at his Berlin junior high; new kid “Tschick” comes to class drunk and might be in the Russian mafia. When Tschick rolls up to Mike’s house in a hotwired car and proposes a road trip without a map, destination, or driver’s license, Mike says yes. Mike’s narration is an anxious stream of wry humor and linked anecdotes, but the moments when his façade slips are startling windows into the pain of social exclusion and the aching loneliness of being fourteen. (Levine/Scholastic, 12–15 years)
Jake Cole’s father had been one of the best shell fishermen in Narragansett Bay until he injured his back and settled into running the Riptide Diner. When he goes missing, Jake and his mother lose their house, and now the diner is in danger of being repossessed. A mysterious character named Captain and the seasoned fisherman Gene Hassard help Jake earn money and learn the ways of the bay. With lushly detailed sense of place and character, Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano delineates the struggle of a boy coming to terms with his situation. (Candlewick, 12–15 years)
In Matt Blackstone’s Sorry You’re Lost, seventh grader Denny “Donuts” Murphy has felt alone and small since his mother died. So he intentionally develops a big persona: clowning in the classroom, making everything into a joke. Gradually, with the help of friends and a budding romance, Donuts sheds his manic showman exterior and learns to appreciate the good of the world. The first-person narrative reveals Donuts’s inner self, and what might have been just a series of cliched middle-school antics turns out to be a story of substance and hope. (Farrar, 11–14 years)
Thirteen-year-old Tyson figures he’ll make a fine outdoorsman: he’s been to a shooting range and owns all the Great American Hunter video games and Planet Earth DVDs. So when his grandfather (and, basically, best friend) invites him to go hunting in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, he sees it as his chance to prove himself a man. But the combination of an inexperienced boy, a sickly seventy-seven-year-old man, and a killer grizzly bear reported in the park is a dangerous one. Ryan Gebhart’s There Will Be Bears is a satisfyingly complicated realistic drama that deals with big issues; excellent pacing will hold readers in its grip. (Candlewick, 11–14 years)
From the March 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.