Waite’s debut YA novel tells the story of teenage girl embarking on an unforgettable road trip during the tumultuous summer of 1978.
Lilly, the story’s 15-year-old narrator, desperately wants to leave her Boston home—at least for the summer. She’s eager to take part in the sex, drug and rock-music explosion happening all around her. At home, her high-achieving older sister is struggling with anorexia and a recent hospitalization, her mother is distracted and exhausted, and her father is antagonistic and remote. Small wonder that within minutes of meeting Joey, a handsome, joint-smoking 17-year-old with bushy hair who calls her “sexy girl,” she’s ready to follow him anywhere. That includes a local party, where she takes LSD and thinks she loses her virginity, and, a month later, a road trip with Joey and his older brother Barry in a Volkswagen Beetle headed to California. Lilly’s gullible, preoccupied mother believes Lilly’s story that this is a family trip with adult supervision. Trouble begins almost immediately, however, when the group is joined by another lovely young woman; a bi-curious speed freak; and a snake-killing survivalist. Jealousies, unbridled drug use and a general lack of boundaries all contribute to a trip that inevitably ends badly. Young-adult readers may be fascinated to learn about a relatively recent era when parents had no way to track or communicate with their wandering children, and some parents may react with horror at the same freedoms they had as teenagers. The youth culture of the 1970s offers a minefield of significant issues with dramatic potential, but Waite skates over many of them, despite the fact that women’s body images, self-medication with drugs, sexual orientations and family dysfunctions are just as relevant now as they were then. Instead, the book peppers the meandering plot with incidental snippets about pelvic waxing, Oreo-eating habits and the many colorful names for types of LSD. Overall, however, it’s surprisingly grim and unfocused for a story about a cross-country teenage romp.
A well-meaning effort that squanders a chance to tell a cohesive story about an ebbing youth culture.