Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

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.

11 thoughts on “Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

  1. “No one brings the gritty goodness like my emotional hit-man from the Midwest…” It’s phrases like this that will keep me reading Reading Rants forever. Rapp should hire you as a PR man. I’m still sitting on this book, girding my loins for the “gritty goodness” that I know will take me to places I’ve never been and never really wanted to go, but glad that I made the journey. I’ll move it up in the pile.

  2. Thanks for this review! I’m a big Adam Rapp fan too. I think that both melvin Burgess and kevin Brooks over in the UK write similarly gritty YA stuff too.

  3. Hi Jen – I have been an elementary school librarian and am expanding my reading of YAlit – and loving it. I just finished my MLS and want to continue working with youth in a public setting. I picked up Punkzilla and love the raw and free-flow writing style, kind of like I love Palahniuk. Also having lived in Portland many years, the references to street kids are oh so familiar! I am just wondering about recommending this book — who would you recommend it to? What titles would you associate it with? It is so tough in so many ways. I am trying to get a feel for how to best serve older teens as my experience has been primarily with up to middle school. Thanks.

  4. Hi Emily,

    I think most of Adam Rapp’s work is for 9th grade and up. I do give some of his stuff to certain 8th graders who I know can handle it, but that’s just on an individual basis. You can pair his work with that of E.R. Frank–they both write beautifully about gritty topics.

  5. This book is simply amazing. No book has ever kept my attention as well as this book. Even kids who hate reading would read this book. It’s an exciting and gritty story. I love Rapp’s writing style. It feels like I’m stepping into the mind of a fellow 14 year old. Spectacular! The description is stellar as well. Just everything about the book is captivating. This is by far, the best book I have ever read.

  6. I literally just finished reading this book and it was phenomenal. I want to read more and that’s the reason I’m here, to find books like this one… Any suggestions?

  7. I just finished reading this book 5 minutes ago. I highly enjoyed this book and im am also 14. I could relate to the main character a lot. Not in the scenarios but by the way he thinks. I have adhd so the way Rapp describes the Add buzz is pretty realistic. I loved it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *