Four teenagers navigate tough choices about their individual and collective futures in Kohmstedt’s coming-of-age novel set in a 1990s Chicago suburb.
Eric “Ike” Eisenhower begins his senior year of high school much like many teenagers do: making fun of the students stuck on school buses as he rides past in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. The Krauts, as Ike and his three childhood friends call themselves in a nod to their shared German heritage, are all instantly relatable characters. There’s K.C., the head-banging athlete with a mane of hair the ladies can’t wait to run their fingers through; Jack, the portly, gritty youth heavily influenced by his motorcycle-loving stepfather; and Tom, the perfect-attendance record holder with an affinity for hip-hop. Ike falls somewhere in the middle: empathetic captain of the track team, street-smart and steadfastly loyal to his crew. But the Krauts’ dynamic changes when Ike’s creepy neighbor, Wally, makes his way into the group, first as the butt of a joke and then as Jack’s wingman when the other boys team up. Jack regards Wally as the fifth Kraut, but the others find Wally weird and unpleasant, especially when they discover more about him. Ultimately, Ike must learn how to balance his fractured friendships, an extremely needy girlfriend and a growing crush on a locker-mate—all while coping with the return of his lowlife father. Kohmstedt weaves each of the book’s numerous subplots seamlessly into the main narrative. The prose is marked by well-paced action, smart structure and realistic, fully developed supporting characters. The author is particularly adept at creating authentic dialogue that would not seem out of place if overheard at a high school, with robust players who don’t stoop to clichéd stereotypes.
A well-crafted, believable story of youthful choices and adult consequences.