Cromley’s debut coming-of-age novel follows a 15-year-old high schooler as he comes to terms with his parents’ split and the confusion of adolescence.
Kirby is your typical teen: mouthy, distrustful of authority and highly aware of his raging libido. But he’s also concerned about the stability of his small family unit. During his short life, he endured a seemingly endless parade of his mother’s suitors, until his stepfather, Bradley, became a more stable presence five years ago. Recently, however, Bradley hasn’t been around the house. He’s disappeared for short periods before—Kirby measures his sabbaticals by an “informal indicator” called “Bradley-Returns Index”—but he’s always come home. When Kirby returns from a torturous stint at computer camp, he finds his mother in a relationship with their neighbor Uncle Harley, or, as Kirby calls him, “the insurgent.” Kirby fears that this development could wipe out the BRI entirely, so he becomes determined to restore order. He enlists the help of his only friends—the meek, sometimes-frustrating Julian, and a troubled girl named Izzy, who’s the object of Kirby’s fantasies—to track down his missing stepfather. The trio “borrows” Julian’s dad’s classic 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner and sets off across Montana on a road trip, and hijinks and adventures ensue. Ultimately, Kirby must confront Bradley and the reasons why the BRI may be permanently at zero. The present-tense, first-person narration works well for recounting these youthful escapades; Kirby is simultaneously reflective and impulsive, making decisions in real time and almost immediately experiencing their consequences. The prose, especially the dialogue, is strong but may be a bit mature for young readers (“You look like a fetus,” is a compelling but perhaps age-specific insult; there are also frequent references to masturbation). Although set in the 1980s, the story and tone have a timeless feel, and Kirby’s struggles with self-exploration are very relatable. Overall, the novel’s strength lies in its evocation of how it feels to live in a sometimes-disappointing world.
A well-structured, enjoyable tale about growing up and letting go.