I just heard an announcement that we’re getting close to some place in Idaho where we’ll get like a half hour to walk around and get something to eat.
Maybe that lady with the shower cap will give me another cigarette if I’m nice to her? Maybe I should tell her my name is Shirley?
P.S. I can’t believe you’re dying. Please don’t die.”
Jamie, or Punkzilla, as his friends call him, has to get to Memphis. His older brother, Peter, is dying of cancer. Peter wrote and sent him enough money for a Greyhound ticket to visit. So Jamie leaves the streets of Portland, and sets out across the country, trying to make it to Memphis before Peter’s death. Jamie writes Peter throughout the journey, carefully documenting the entire trip for him, in a series of unmailed letters crammed in a fat notebook.
It’s quite a trip, too: stories of being jumped in the bus station bathroom, being mistaken for a girl repeatedly, losing his virginity, musings on his history of petty crime, God, and the nature of the world, and wrenching descriptions of hunger and loneliness fill the epistles. The tales are frequently seamy (Peter admonishes Jamie to be honest, and not hold anything back in the letters), and the sheer danger of the situation is apparent. Jamie has some chilling run-ins with child predators, and puts himself at risk of harm repeatedly.
That said, there is a distinct buoyancy to the letters: Punkzilla’s disarming tone evokes Charlie’s voice in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two works: the epistolary form, the intimacy that first person narrative creates, the outcasted speakers, the brutal honesty of the letters. I instantly adored Jamie (just like I felt about Charlie!), and I love the way Rapp uses filler words and little punctuation and creative grammar to craft Jamie’s voice. It’s really great, and creates this perfect image of a skinny kid, trying to be street smart, gone AWOL from military school and on the way to visit his dying brother.
This book is a Printz honor book! Please check it out! I read it in two hours, as my mom and I were driving through the blazing white heat of New Mexico, as she moved me back home to wait for my Canadian visa to come through. I was alternately crying over leaving my friends and panicking over the future, but the experience of reading such a great road trip book while I was actually on a road trip was incredible. Come on, guys! Get in your cars (or on your bicycles/llamas/covered wagons/flying batboats) and let’s go on a trip-and take this awesome book with you!
Rapp, Adam. Punkzilla. Candlewick Books: Somerville, 2009. 244 pp. Ages 15 and up. Drugs, sex (including abuses of power by adults), violence, and general mischief.