The Last Exit to Normal

The Last Exit to Normal
by Michael Harmon
YA fiction. 288 pp.
Knopf. 2008.

kindle summary:

Yanked out of his city life and plunked down into a small Montana town with his father and his father's boyfriend, seventeen-year-old Ben, angry and resentful about the changed circumstances of his life, begins to notice that something is not quite right with the little boy next door and determines to do something about it.

further summary:
It’s true: After 17-year-old Ben’s father announces he’s gay and the family splits apart, Ben does everything he can to tick him off: skip school, smoke pot, skateboard nonstop, get arrested. But he never thinks he’ll end up yanked out of his city life and plunked down into a small Montana town with his dad and Edward, The Boyfriend. As if it's not painful enough living in a hick town with spiked hair, a skateboard habit, and two dads, he soon realizes something's not quite right with Billy, the boy next door. He's hiding a secret about his family, and Ben is determined to uncover it and set things right. In an authentic, unaffected, and mordantly funny voice, Michael Harmon tells the wrenching story of an uprooted and uncomfortable teenaged guy trying to fix the lives around him—while figuring out his own.

This is the first book I read on my Kindle. (And I haven't told you how much I lurve my Kindle yet, but I do. And I will. After I finish catching up with these reviews.) I had tagged this book as To Read some time ago, though I don't remember where I found the recommendation. Overall, I found the book to be average. That said, there are some strengths to it to commend it.

For starters, the characters are well drawn. Particularly Miss Mae, Ben's new step-grandmother. She's brusque and apparently rather weather-worn and hardened. But there's a deep and abiding love underneath her tough exterior, and you're thrilled as Ben begins to discover this. (You're also thrilled every time she whacks him with a wooden spoon for some offense, be it foul language, laziness, or smarting off. Even better when she kicks him out of the house for his behavior and makes him sleep in the shed.) You fall in love with Billy, the boy next door who is walking a tough line in his own life. Edward is even extremely likable.

The novel shows amazing growth on Ben's part, and that leaves the book with an overall feeling of hope. Is Ben a punk? Yes. Do you see and understand why he is? Yes.

I'd say the one thing I found distracting was the language. I'm not even sure why. Because this was the language used around school as I grew up. It's the language of ranch hands and cowboys. But it just seemed to be in excess in this novel.

other reviews:
Becky's Book Reviews | Guys Lit Wire | Literature Blog


Alisa said...

I am excited to hear more about your kindle. How lightweight is it?

I am at the end of reading a novel the size and weight of the Norton anthology (called 2666). And my arms hurt from holding it up on occasion when I got sick of reading from my lap. Book's all right, btw.

Colin Matthew ( said...

That book sounds pretty good. I'll have to check it out next time I am in the bookstore.. buying a real book.. because I can't afford a Kindle :-(

Ali said...

I liked this book a lot (I reviewed it here). Not perfect, but a good read with great characters. I didn't even notice the language!

eleka nahmen said...

I want to hear about the Kindle! I have to talk myself every other day out of buying one, even though I'm still totally not convinced it's possibly any better [that anything is possibly any better] than my iPhone is. (Which is the absolute completion to my life, which I fall asleep holding, my attachment to which is garnering me infamy, for which I would get a USB charger implanted in my wrist.)