Teen boys go on journeys both physical (road trip!) and psychological in these affecting YA novels.
Finn Easton, protagonist of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar. (Simon, 14 years and up)
As Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel Beetle Boy, author Margaret Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks. (Carolrhoda Lab, 14 years and up)
Two years ago a family outing to the beach ended in trauma when fourteen-year-old Miles experienced a psychotic break. While recovering in the psych ward, Miles received a life-changing diagnosis of schizophrenia along with some devastating news: during the commotion of his episode, Miles’s little brother went missing and is presumed drowned. Miles begins a risky investigation into his brother’s disappearance shortly after ditching his cocktail of medications. Some readers will guess the twist ending of Nic Sheff’s Schizo, but will nevertheless hope for Miles to find peace with his life and with his illness. (Philomel, 12 years and up)
As Carl Hiaasen’s farcical Skink — No Surrender opens, teen narrator Richard’s cousin, Malley, runs away from home, and Richard is certain that she’s with a chat-room acquaintance almost twice her age. He tells Clint Tyree, a.k.a. Skink (the unkempt and unwavering former Florida governor who stars in several of Hiaasen’s adult novels), and the pair immediately takes off on an event-filled road trip to rescue Malley. Hiaasen smoothly integrates Skink’s vulnerabilities with his larger-than-life behaviors — including eating roadkill and wrestling an alligator — and Richard’s naiveté plays nicely against Skink’s extremism. (Knopf, 12–15 years)
From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.