THE CAR by Gary Paulsen


Age Range: 12 - 16
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Paulsen's latest comes close to a classic teenage male fantasy of fleeing from home to seek independence and self. Both Terry's parents leave the same day; each phones asking him to tell the other. Since their quarrels have always obliterated any urge to parent it's no loss, especially since Terry has $1,000 and a kit to build a car. After handily putting it together and teaching himself to drive, the 14-year-old heads west. He picks up Waylon, an aging, footloose vet whose psychic wounds date to carrying out termination orders against civilians in 'Nam (as depicted in vignettes entitled "Memories," early on); Waylon takes Terry to Wayne, a war buddy who tries to temper Waylon's sporadic rages against injustice. Hoping to kindle the boy's curiosity, the two take him on a journey that includes meeting an ancient man who tells tales from US history and a madam who explains that another friend (also a prostitute) has died of AIDS; a poker game; a fundamentalist commune where women are rigidly oppressed; and the site of Custer's defeat. Scenes and camaraderie are vivid, the narrative pungent. Kids will be enthralled by Terry's freedom and his friends' aura of mystery and loyalty; they may also sympathize with Waylon's violent, though righteous, anger without understanding its terrible consequences. In an inconclusive ending, Terry heads back into a conflict with some local toughs that may well end like Custer's. What can he look forward to if he survives? Paulsen doesn't offer much. There's a strong conscience propelling this novel, but it's buried so deep that YA's caught up in the action may miss it. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-15-292878-2
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994


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