Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I am a droolin’ fool for Adam Rapp’s writing. No one brings the gritty goodness like my emotional hit-man from the Midwest, whose stories of down and out street kids living on the edge of rural suburbia never fail to rip out my heartstrings by their roots. Fourteen-year-old punk-music-loving Jamie has skipped out of military school and is making a rough living in Portland, OR by stealing ipods for Far Larkin, a shady figure whose “one eye gets stuck but…he’s into Star Wars action figures and he’s nonabusive to little kids,” when he gets word that his beloved older brother P, long kicked out of their conservative family for being gay, is dying of cancer down in Memphis, TN. So Jamie takes a Greyhound south, meeting a whole circus of freaks and geeks along the way. There’s Bucktooth Jenny, who dusts her collection of baby doll heads with an embroidered washcloth; Alan Skymer, who offers Jamie a hotel room if he’ll hold his hand and little bit more; the old lady with the leaky eye and “hair so white it hurts to look at” who “smells like diarrhea and old flowers;” kid genius Sam who owns a copy of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and a rubber mask that looks like Keanu Reeves; lovely Albertina with the wavy blond hair and the light blue eyes who breaks Jamie’s heart, and many, many more. As Jamie makes his way from stop to stop and town to town, he writes down all his thoughts and feelings in a series of letters to P that he hopes to present to his bro before he dies. But will Jamie make it to Tennessee in time? This rough, introspective novel reads like a stark modern take on Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road and features secondary characters so realistically rendered that I could touch the scars on their faces and see the dirt under their fingernails. Not for the faint of heart, Punkzilla takes brave readers to some scary and uncomfortable places, but never without a small lamp of hope to light the way.
Punkzilla by Adam Rapp