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