November 18, 2017

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“Paper Towns” and Other Epic Road Trip Titles in YA Lit

papertowns-tie-inThe buzz is building for Paper Towns (PG-13), the latest John Green book-to-big-screen production, which pulls into theaters on July 24. Based on the 2008 novel (Dutton), the film stars Nat Wolff, who also had a role in the last year’s runaway hit, The Fault in Our Stars. The carefully planned life of high school senior Quentin Jacobsen is upended when Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the beautiful and free-spirited girl next door with whom he has been infatuated for years, enlists him as partner in crime for a crazy, caper-filled night. When Margo goes missing the next morning, leaving behind a series of cryptic clues, it’s up to Quentin and his equally straitlaced friends to pile into the Jacobsen minivan and go in hot pursuit, embarking on an eventful and unforgettable road trip. Filmgoers and Green fans will want to ride along for Quentin’s adventures, so make sure to have plenty of copies of Paper Towns on hand, including the recently issued media tie-in edition (Penguin, 2015), which features an eye-catching movie poster cover.

There and back again

Wanderlust, personal quests, the unknown, escape from the confines of day-to-day life, or just a reckless sense of “Why not?”—there are plenty of reasons for road-tripping. Perfect summertime reads, these YA novels depict journeys that resonate with humor, adventure, romance, friendship, self-discovery, burgeoning independence, and the challenges and rewards of finding one’s way back home.

Friends and freeways

porcupine of truth_When his mother forces him to leave New York City to spend the summer with his dying father, an alcoholic whom he hasn’t seen in 14 years, 17-year-old loner Carson Smith feels displaced, to say the least. On his first day in Billings, MT, he meets Aisha Stinson, a smart and gorgeous African American girl who has been homeless since coming out as a lesbian to her father. Though romance is disappointingly out of the question, Carson finds himself inextricably drawn to Aisha, who appreciates his wisecracking quips, shares his penchant for questioning everything, and “gets” him in a way that no one ever has before. He invites her to stay with his family, and while cleaning up the basement, the teens discover evidence that Carson’s grandfather, whose long-ago disappearance ushered in three generations of woe, just might be traceable. The two set out on a road trip that takes them all the way to San Francisco, where they finally find the truth behind long-held Smith family secrets. Along the way, they also wrestle with questions about relationships, religion and faith, and finding a place to fit in. Starring a cast of delightfully diverse, distinctive, and often damaged characters, Bill Konigsberg’s The Porcupine of Truth (Scholastic, 2015; Gr 9 Up) is witty, poignant, and profound.

100 sidewaysTeens with a taste for the offbeat and irreverent will enjoy traveling 100 Sideways Miles (S. & S., 2014; Gr 9 Up) with Finn Easton. This singular 17-year-old suffers from epileptic seizures (the result of a freak accident in which a dead horse fell from a truck killing his mother when Finn was a child), measures time in terms of distance traveled (by the Earth in orbit—approximately 20 miles per second), and wonders if he’s a real boy or a fictional character created by his father (the author of a best-selling and controversial sci-fi novel featuring a protagonist who shares a striking resemblance to Finn along with his name). Luckily, his best friend, the attractive, tobacco-chewing, teacher-torturing Cade Hernandez, is around to keep Finn’s feet firmly grounded in their small town in California. Then Finn meets Julia Bishop, falls for her head over heels, and must say goodbye when she moves back to Chicago. Devastated, he leaves on a planned road trip with Cade to visit a college in Oklahoma, but unexpected events along the way inspire Finn to take his fate into his own hands and begin to chart his own course. Andrew Smith displays a knack for introducing ideas, manipulating and reshaping them like Play-Doh, and ultimately forming them into earth-shattering truths. The protagonist’s intelligent and thoughtful first-person narration is fresh, funny, and mesmerizing.

kissing in america_Much to the consternation of her feminist mom, 16-year-old Eva is obsessed with romance novels (she’s read 118 to date) and maintains a steadfast belief “in great love” (despite the never-been-kissed reality of life at her “nerd-heavy” Bronx, NY, school). Then, seemingly miraculously, the handsome boy she’s been crushing on for forever finally notices her. They share a passion for literature, as well as the emotional fallout from the loss of a family member (Eva’s father was killed in a plane crash two years earlier, and Will’s brother died as a baby). Just as things are heating up, Will is forced to move to his father’s home in Los Angeles. Determined to go cross-country and get her man, Eva convinces her brilliant best friend Annie Kimm to enter the two of them in a teen academic game show that films in L.A. and then talks her overprotective but emotionally distant mother into allowing them to travel there by bus. Their on-the-road adventures are many and varied, and while the romance doesn’t pan out exactly as desired, Eva’s experiences deepen her relationship with Annie, shed insight on her mother’s behavior, help her move beyond her father’s loss, and open her heart to a future filled with many different kinds of love. Embellished throughout with affecting quotes from poets, Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America (HarperCollins, 2015; Gr 9 Up) soars with wit, intelligence, and heart-lifting hope.

Family travels and travails

drive me crazyLana’s Grandpa Howe and Cassie’s Grandma Tess have just gotten married, and the newlyweds invite the two middle schoolers along on their eight-day honeymoon, tooling through the California countryside. Sincere and somewhat geeky Lana is genuinely excited about the trip and looks forward to forging a lifelong friendship with her new cousin. The more sophisticated Cassie, however, would prefer to remain home and solidify her social standing with the uber-popular Kendra. Though there are fun moments (flirting poolside with boys or crashing a rooftop wedding), both girls also wrestle with issues they keep carefully hidden away—Lana worries about her mother’s worsening health and Cassie obsesses over a rift with her former best friend. As the miles roll away, tensions in the backseat build, misunderstandings abound, and conflicts erupt. However, as each girl gradually learns to face her own problems and confide her fears and concerns in the other, a true bond is forged. Told from alternating viewpoints, Terra Elan McVoy’s Drive Me Crazy (HarperCollins, 2015; Gr 6-8) provides an enjoyable mélange of high-spirited antics, heartfelt issues, and ever-changing locales.

SISTERSIn her engaging graphic novel memoir, Raina Telgemeier re-creates the ups and downs of a classic family car trip as well as the wonders and woes of being Sisters (Scholastic, 2014; Gr 4 Up). In this follow-up to Smile (2010), 14-year-old Raina, younger sister Amara, little brother Will, and their mother pile into their aged baby-blue van for the drive from California to Colorado for a family reunion. Well-placed flashbacks provide the skinny on the intricacies of the sisters’ often-squabbling relationship as well as the story behind why Raina refuses to ride shotgun (it involves a rogue pet snake). The trip is filled with plenty of arguing and snarky attitude, but unexpected occurrences provide impetus for the girls to find common ground and ultimately appreciate the importance of family. Telgemeier’s succinct script and expressively drawn characters convey wide-ranging emotions and provide readers with plenty to chuckle about, relate to, and mull over.

signed sky harperIt’s the summer of 1972, and though Winston (named for the cigarette) hasn’t seen her mother since the aspiring performer fled New Smyrna Beach, FL, for Hollywood 11 years ago, the 15-year-old doesn’t much miss her. She has her brusque but loving grandmother to raise her; income from busing tables at Leon’s Seafood Restaurant, where Nanny works; and her secret dream of training to become a swimmer equal to her idol, Mark Spitz. Everything is hunky-dory until they receive a desperate-sounding letter Signed, Skye Harper (S & S, 2014; Gr 8 Up), Momma’s self-chosen stage name, asking, “Come git me,/Please.” In the blink of an eye, Nanny turns up with an RV “borrowed” from Leon, loads up the family (including dog Thelma and rooster Denny), and sets off to Las Vegas to retrieve her daughter. The trip gets even more interesting when they discover a stowaway hidden in the camper. Not only is the sweet-talking, guitar-strumming, genuinely endearing Steve the son of Leon, but he also happens to be the boy of Winston’s dreams. As their destination grows closer, Winston wonders if she will be able to open her heart to her absentee mother and share Nanny, who has suddenly turned from tough-as-nails to vulnerable. Narrated in rapid-fire yet lyrical chapters, Carol Lynch Williams’s novel features unforgettable characters, a strong sense of time and place, and powerful insights about what it means to be a family.

White knuckles on the wheel

there will be liesShelby Jane Cooper, 17, counts down eight days’ worth of events culminating with the incident that will “erase [her] from the world.” There Will Be Lies (Bloomsbury, 2015; Gr 9 Up) is a novel of taut suspense, twist-turning action, and stunning surprises. The narrator’s closely regimented life with her overprotective mother in Scottsdale, AZ, is shattered when the teen is hit by a car. The injuries aren’t life-threatening, but Mom suddenly transforms into a different person, hustling a hobbling Shelby from hospital to a rented car and setting off on an out-of-the-blue outing to the Grand Canyon. As they travel through the magnificent southwestern landscape, the trip begins to feel more on-the-run than meandering fun, and Shelby is faced with the startling truth that everything about her life just might be a lie. Meanwhile, a mysterious and magnetic boy (or is he a coyote, as in the Coyote of Navajo legend?) keeps turning up and leading her to a place called the Dreaming, where she is no longer deaf, interacts with talking animals, and discovers that she is fated to save this world—and her own—from destruction. Events on both fronts unfold with a page-turning pace, providing parallels and incongruities, colliding and coalescing in unexpected ways, and offering Shelby the opportunity to become captain of her own odyssey. Nick Lake’s spectacularly written journey of self-discovery will keep teens riveted and thinking about the story long after the book is closed.

devil you knowPart intoxicating romance and part psychological thriller, Trish Doller’s The Devil You Know (Bloomsbury, 2015; Gr 10 Up) is compulsively readable. It’s been all work and no play for Arcadia since her mother’s death, and the 18-year-old, tired of looking after her father and little brother, feels dead-ended in her small Florida town. On her way to a campfire party at a local park, she sees a handsome stranger and impulsively invites him along. Soon Matt is kissing Cadie’s friend Lindsey, but that’s okay, since Cadie later meets Matt’s cousin Noah, to whom she is head-spinningly attracted, despite indicators of his troubled past. The girls agree to accompany the boys on the next leg of their road trip, and though Lindsey later backs out with a quick text message, Cadie is still onboard. However, the fun- and passion-filled romp that she hoped for gradually turns into a deadly nightmare, and Cadie soon realizes that it will take all of her smarts and courage to get out alive. Tension and terror slowly build, along with the sizzling sexual—and soulful—connection between Cadie and Noah, making her actions believable if not wise. This fast-paced cautionary tale is scintillating and satisfying.

Lost…and found

LetsGetLostLeila, 17, traveling from Louisiana to Alaska to see the Northern Lights, meets four teens along the way and deeply impacts each of their lives. Hudson, a small-town mechanic with medical school aspirations, fixes her car, falls in love with her, and finds himself rethinking his dreams. Hitchhiker Bree, on the run from a family calamity, accepts a ride from Leila, drags her into several ill-thought-out (and illegal) escapades, and finally realizes it’s time to return to the sister she left behind. Elliot, staggering drunk after a bad night at prom, is practically run over by the protagonist, who then helps him win the girl he loves with a series of over-the-top eighties-movie-inspired antics. Sonia, still reeling from the untimely death of the love of her life, enlists the teen’s aid in returning a pair of missing wedding rings, and ultimately discovers that it’s okay to embrace a new romance. Told from each character’s viewpoint in multi-chapter sections, the story comes full circle to Leila, who reveals the tragic motivation for her journey and maps out a plan to find her own way home. Humorous, poignant, and wise, Adi Alsaid’s Let’s Get Lost (Harlequin, 2014; Gr 8 Up) is a soul-nourishing spree through the country and the ways of the heart.

Publication Information

ALSAID, Adi. Let’s Get Lost. Harlequin Teen. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780373211241; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780373211494; ebook $4.99. ISBN 9781460326718.

DROLLER, Trish. The Devil You Know. Bloomsbury. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619634169; ebook $12.99. ISBN 9781619634176.

GREEN, John. Paper Towns. media tie-in ed. Penguin. 2015. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780147517654.

KONIGSBERG, Bill. The Porcupine of Truth. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545648936; ebook $17.99. ISBN 9780545648943.

LAKE, Nick. There Will Be Lies. Bloomsbury. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619634404; ebook $12.99. ISBN 9781619634411.

MCCVOY, Terra Elan. Drive Me Crazy. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062322432; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780062322456.

RABB, Margo. Kissing in America. HarperCollins. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062322371; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780062322395.

SMITH, Andrew. 100 Sideways Miles. S. & S. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442444959; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-4497-3; pap. $11.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-4496-6 (Sept. 2015).

TELGEMEIER, Raina. Sisters. illus. by author. Scholastic. 2015. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780545540605.

WILLIAMS, Carol Lynch. Signed, Skye Harper. S & S/Paula Wiseman Bks. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481400329; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781481400336; ebook $8.99. ISBN 9781481400343.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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