Sunday, February 22, 2015

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Friendship between teenage boys.
First love with a girl.
Frankly realistic dialogue. (Translation: profanity alert.)
Funny as can be.

By the end of a hilarious condom-buying scene in Andrew Smith's 100 Sideways Miles, the thoroughly embarrassed narrator tells the sales clerk, "I'm going to need an extra bag to put over my fucking head."

Finn Easton, the narrator, has epilepsy and his eyes are two different colours. He is very shy. His father happens to be a famous author of a science fiction novel that features an alien named Finn with heterochromatic eyes. The upside down draft horse in the clouds that's pictured on the book's jacket is relevant to Finn's singular backstory of childhood trauma. Finn's best friend Cade Hernandez is charismatic and outgoing and their friendship is at the core of the story. 100 Sideways Miles is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding.

And yet I might have given up on this book, if it wasn't that my book group will be discussing it later this week. I've been meaning to read Winger and Grasshopper Jungle, but haven't yet, so I while I'd heard praise of Smith's work, I had no firsthand experience. I'm not sure why, but I was skeptical about learning anything new in this novel.

It wasn't until a sentence on page 48 that I reached a turning point and became truly hooked: "The politics of teenage grudges are very complex."

That line prompted me to make a connection to a different book, one that I love very much: The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp. Van Camp's protagonist Larry Sole talks about teenage grudges and he also is healing from a traumatic past. Anyway, that was all it took for me to open my heart to the pleasures of 100 Sideways Miles. I'm so glad that I did.

Readalikes: An Abundance of Katherines (John Green) - for the math-loving, road-tripping camaraderie; Boy Toy (Barry Lyga) - for the baseball buddies and dealing with trauma; Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (Peter Cameron) - for the dark humour and voice; The Spectacular Now (Tim Tharp) - again, for dark humour and voice; and Flash Burnout (LK Madigan) - for sensitive portrayal of friendship and first love while more complicated things are going on.

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