On the surface, Joe seems like a typical high school student. He’s snarky, rebellious, and equally obsessed with girls and movies (although it’s a toss-up). But beneath his devil-may-care attitude lies a deep emotional reservoir of pain and abandonment issues. Three years ago, Joe’s father, a jack-of-all-trades scientist, abandoned the family following the revelation that Joe’s mother was having an affair. There’s more to Joe’s father’s disappearance than is readily apparent, however, because now the U.S. government is spying on Joe. To make matters worse, Joe’s girlfriend, Alice, died in a tragic accident three years ago. With mom and dad both out of the picture, Joe and his older sister, Loren, are more or less left to fend for themselves. While college student Loren tries to be a positive influence on her wayward brother’s life—balancing her own career aspirations with ad hoc parenting—Joe’s antiauthoritarian, individualistic attitude makes him hard to control. This is not to say that Joe is cruel or disrespectful to his sister; on the contrary, when he discovers that Loren’s boyfriend is not all he claims to be, he steps in to protect her from a broken heart and sets her on the right path. Joe’s story is entertaining, and Ebner keeps the pages turning with a mix of humor and mystery. In a sense, though, Joe’s aforementioned chivalry is indicative of an underlying weakness in the novel. Although the author paints an entertaining portrait of his protagonist, Joe seems just a bit too cool and correct. He’s quick with a quip at every moment and always occupies the moral high ground. Even in situations in which his actions seem deplorable, such as the opening scene—in which Joe follows a loquacious moviegoing couple back to their home to educate them on cinema etiquette—Ebner makes sure that Joe’s antagonists appear even worse by comparison. The narrative voice also remains firmly rooted in Joe’s corner, which makes for a less compelling read.
A fast-paced, humorous novel, but one that rarely offers any critique of its protagonist’s actions.