KICKFLIP BOYS by Neal Thompson


A Memoir of Freedom, Rebellion, and the Chaos of Fatherhood
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Permissive parenting clashes with adolescent rebellion amid the skateboarding subculture.

As the two skateboard-obsessed sons become increasingly disruptive to family harmony and the narrative proceeds from school discipline issues to pot-smoking defiance and legal skirmishes over trespassing and graffiti, it would seem that this is building toward a horrific climax. Thankfully for Thompson (A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley, 2013, etc.) and his family, the sons stepped back from the precipice toward the end of high school, straightened out, and found some sort of independent maturity. So what initially seemed like a cautionary tale turns out to be a rite-of-passage story. The lacerating power of some of the chapters comes from the author’s recognition that he has perhaps “become their enabler,” that he didn’t recognize where all this was leading until it was almost too late, and that his own teenage experiences with skateboarding and marijuana hadn’t prepared him for this brave new world. “If my 1970s skating had been a pastel-colored tableau, smooth like 1970s AM radio,” he writes, “the boys skated like a gray-hued mash-up of grunge, punk, and rap, all angsty and illegal.” Thompson also confesses to the insecurities of a writer whose career has stalled, who numbs himself with alcohol and has to hide the Xanax after his son tells him that it has become “the new heroin” among their crowd. Could this loving family have handled things differently? Definitely. Could they have handled things better? That’s more difficult to answer. The author admits that his wife worried that this book would “memorialize our incompetence,” while he countered that it would “celebrate our persistence.” It also shows that Thompson recognizes promising material when he sees it (and lives it) and knows how to heighten the drama for narrative momentum.

A highly candid memoir of parenthood that often fascinates and occasionally frustrates as the author tries to come to terms with the causes that have produced these particular effects.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-239434-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2018


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