"March to the beat of your own drummer and never look back," appears to be the theme of this picture book for teens.
Thomas resents and defies family, teachers and peers, whether they are asking him to keep clean, do his homework or show respect. He hides behind his headphones as they deliver accusations and predict his failure, but he offers nothing as an alternative. He interprets cultural pressures that urge him to join the military or to vote or to embrace religion as demands to “do as we say, think like us, be like us.” This mantra appears frequently, sometimes shouting at readers in large bold letters and sometimes hiding in gray beneath other text. Gleeson’s spare, terse syntax is woven within and around Greder’s stark, rather vicious, gray-and-black illustrations that variously fill the pages or are scattered in panels. Thomas is depicted only in the final pages, drawn in lightly colored hues, first surrounded by childhood toys and last seen heading for a bus, presumably leaving home with destination and future unknown. All of this is way beyond teenage angst or even a search for one’s passion or raison d’etre. The overall mood of the piece is one of intense, unremitting anger.
It is far beyond the emotional understanding of the usual picture-book audience and ultimately without substance or purpose for older readers. Dark, bitter and disturbing. (Picture book. 13 & up)