A young man explores the intricacies of friendships, family, and growing up in debut author May’s keenly perceptive coming-of-age novel.
Sixteen-year-old Ben McDowell has a pretty average list of desires. He wants a reasonably attractive girlfriend, the acceptance of his wrestling teammates, and a chance to escape his crazy household. Unfortunately for him, his life is decidedly not average: he’s stuck with a mother who barely pays attention to him and who pretends to speak for his geriatric dog in a Southern accent, a gregarious father, and a brother, Johnny, who sings Beatles songs but rarely talks. A series of moves have landed the family in unfamiliar Adele, Virginia. Add Ben’s Charlie Brown–shaped head and his penchants for chess and reading, and he has little hope of fitting in at North Central High. Junior year brings some surprising perks, though—there’s a new dog in the family and the possibility that an actual, pretty girl might like him—but he still has to deal with the constant bullying of fellow wrestler Blake Barker. When Blake starts making fun of Johnny’s singing, things turn nasty, and Ben must defend his brother, no matter what the cost. May perceptively captures the reality of suburban teenage life without clichés. Although the book’s plot hinges on predictable elements of teenage fiction, its unapologetically realistic characters keep things warm and fresh. Ben, in particular, is a masterfully drawn protagonist: shallow, occasionally selfish, and sometimes sexist (he thinks his girlfriend “should apologize for not going further than just making out in the car”), he so perfectly embodies the vulnerability and myopia of adolescence that readers won’t be able to help but identify with him. The other characters are just as vivid—his mother’s quirks, Johnny’s autism, and his father’s atta-boy attitude are all so recognizable that they enliven an otherwise unremarkable story. The result is a tale of teen travails that will appeal to adults as well as teenagers.
A heartwarming and realistic YA story.