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by Paul Many

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-8027-8828-9
Publisher: Walker

Rising high-school senior Nick Doran walks to the beat of his own drummer—literally—and away from life’s problems—in this case, military school orientation, a consequence of accidentally starting a chimney fire. Leaving his parents a message on the answering machine (their regular form of communication), Nick sets out to spend the summer with his notoriously irresponsible aunt Wanda. But living with Wanda in her tiny cabin means living among the other “hippies” (O.K. Sunbeam, Jolly Roger, Rode Kool, Loosie Starshine, and Wanda’s quasi-boyfriend, Deke) at Happiness Far (the “m” lost long ago) and earning your keep, one of his aunt’s “how to make a house a home” philosophies. Summer at the Far progresses into communal festivities interrupted by “Stoners” (affluent teens of the neighboring Stone Coach Woods subdivision) attacks; Wanda losing her job again, due to her carelessness; Nick’s isolation from his parents, who still grieve for Nick’s older brother; his romance with “Stoner” Diana; and his protection of Diana and her sisters from their sexually abusive father. Although Nick learns to communicate with his all-too-human parents, both Nick and Wanda accept responsibility for their actions (i.e., mature), and Nick finds a home where he can stay, the plot and its happily-ever-after ending seem entirely implausible. What will keep readers plodding along are Many’s (The Great Pancake Escape, p. 452, etc.) strengths in characterization (albeit clichéd at times), strong appeal to male YAs, and humor in the face of life’s most trying time—growing up. (Fiction. YA)