Angry, just-turned-16-year-old Alex, a white boy, and equally angry but very old Lester, a black man, are unlikely road-trip buddies in this novel that transcends its conventions.
The cross-generational road trip is a familiar trope; so is the life-changing cross-racial relationship. Where this book that combines the two stands out is in its refusal to make Lester simply a tool for Alex's coming-of-age. While Lester initially seems to conform to many of the stereotypes, he is, as Alex learns, nevertheless entirely an individual, one who hates his age-inflicted vulnerability with bullheaded passion. They come together—unwillingly—when Alex's frankly odious, local-politician mother takes Lester in to make herself look good. In fairly short order, though, they find themselves on the run together in Lester's Cadillac, on their way to, first, Florida to find the father Alex has never known and then to Alabama, to visit the sister Lester hasn't seen in years. Lester counsels him: "[W]hen you commit to a course of action, don't hesitate. Don't limp-dick yourself into a hole." Accordingly, Alex learns to drive, comes to understand a little of the hard truth of race in post–civil rights–era America and spectacularly loses his virginity in a scene that will surprise readers as much as Alex.
If there's little doubt about the end of the trip, readers will be happy they've gone along for the ride. (Fiction. 14 & up)