In Hartinger’s (The Order of the Poison Oak, 2005, etc.) newest YA installment in the Russel Middlebrook series, Russel finds his wishes for adventure unexpectedly granted in the form of a counterculture-loving, Dumpster-diving new guy.
While instant messaging his boyfriend—Otto, who’s 800 miles away but a great friend—Russel suddenly realizes they’ve become just friends. Otto understands that Russel wants more than text on the screen, so they decide to break up. This is just what Russel needs: an opportunity to forsake love and welcome adventure. Yet not 24 hours after breaking up with Otto, and despite his claims against love and guys, Russel finds himself guiltily, and weirdly, attracted to Wade, a tight-shirt–wearing, beefy, black 19-year-old who pops out of a Dumpster. Wade is a “freegan” living off society’s refuse and discarded consumerism, though he’s not a bum or homeless. Rather, he’s smart and invigorating—just the kind of adventure Russel has been looking for. But perhaps too much of one. In true-to-character, first-person prose, Hartinger reveals the psychological and social conundrums of a lovesick, somewhat self-involved gay boy in high school. Teenage readers, homosexual or not, will find the confident, slang-heavy prose easy to understand, especially since Russel’s and his friends’ mindsets are warmly personal yet identifiable. When Russel’s life doesn’t go exactly as he expects, Hartinger shows how “the planet exploded, and the sun winked out, and gravity stopped working, and our entire solar system was sucked into a big black hole.” Along with the edifying main plotline, which will appeal to readers of any age, the well-conceived subplots won’t disappoint young readers looking for the juicy gossip that runs through the series. With Russel, there’s always drama—real and perceived—but definitely no lack of love.
Fans of the series will revel in this smart, quirky YA novel that’s ripe with substance beyond the surface.