It’s one tough summer in Eugene, Oregon, for Travis and his friends, “good kids with rough lives,” as Travis’ basketball coach calls them.
Travis’ friend Natalie says, “This is the part where you laugh. You just have to. When things are so shitty that there’s nothing you can do, there’s no other way to react.” And the problems do pile up. Travis lives in a trailer park with his grandparents, and his grandmother is dying of cancer; his mother is a homeless heroin addict. Natalie has reason not to trust her new stepfather. Travis breaks his ribs jumping off a bridge, and his friend Malik is stabbed during a pickup basketball game. Yet the story never feels heavy or melodramatic. What might seem didactic in lesser hands feels realistic and right here. Messages are delivered in natural dialogue, the well-drawn characters speaking from the heart with wisdom derived from firsthand experience. “We keep working. We keep trying. ’Cause fuck everyone else, you know? We just do what we do….We keep trying hard.” And plenty of humor leavens the tale: Travis releases two 4-foot caimans into the local pond and pees on a racist neighbor’s steps, and Malik writes “dirty love letters” that Travis’ grandmother reads and loves. Travis and feisty Natalie are there for each other, and teen readers will identify with them. Travis and Natalie are white; Malik is black; poverty and love connect them.
A memorable story of good kids transcending rough lives. (Fiction. 14 & up)