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Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

In this captivating story about loss, love, and changing your ways, National Book Award­–winning author Pete Hautman imbues the classic road trip novel with clever wit and heartfelt musings about life and death.

Steven Gerald Gabel—a.k.a. Stiggy—needs to get out of Minnesota. His father recently look his own life, his mother is a shell of the person she used to be, and his sort-of-girlfriend ghosted him and skipped town. What does he have left to stick around for? Armed with his mom’s credit card and a tourist map of Great River Road, Stiggy sets off in his dad’s car.

The only problem is, life on his own isn’t exactly what he expected and, soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads: keep running from his demons, or let them hitch a ride back home with him.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Hautman’s work. I’m also a huge fan of character-driven stories where the plot isn’t really grand or intricate. I’ve said it a million times, but just throw some interesting characters together and let them yammer at each other and ruminate on life and I’m good. That’s plenty for me. Because meeting people, interacting, learning, growing, thinking, rethinking, processing… that’s actually a lot of plot. The plot of “how do I do this whole being a person thing and what on earth am I supposed to think or do or say” is huge and one we can all relate to.

I always like a good road trip book. Stiggy sets off on his own, but spends the majority of his trip meeting people who both literally and metaphorically make him change course. He leaves Minnesota because everything is just really crummy and seems to have no point. His father recently died by suicide, his girlfriend totally ghosted him, and he pissed off his only real friend. Sick of everything and the king of negativity and bad attitudes, Stiggy takes off with a vague destination in mind, some cash, his mom’s stolen credit card, and his dad’s iPod full of old music. Along the way he meets colorful characters who force him to think about things he’d rather not address, like: What are you mad about? Do you know who you are? These people make him think about connections, about the nature of friendship, and other philosophical stuff.

Interspersed with the chapters about his road trip are chapters from his past that inform readers about his relationship with Gaia, a quick-to-anger, emotionally confusing Goth girl a year younger than he is. Their relationship is pretty low-key—they hang out a lot, just sort of aimlessly driving and listening to music. They talk, but there’s a lot they don’t know and don’t understand about each other. When Gaia up and decides to move to Wisconsin to live with a friend, Stiggy is totally thrown for a loop. Gaia offers him nothing, then leaves. He hopes to reconnect with her on his road trip, but it’s clear that he has a lot of work to do on himself before he could ever be ready to have any kind of meaningful relationship. That’s clear to us, the readers, but also seems to become clear to Stiggy as his trip goes on.

Stiggy undertakes his road trip partially because he doesn’t want to think about a lot of things. But, of course, his road trip becomes all about thinking about stuff, no matter how hard he avoids it. What else is there to do while driving through the Midwest but think? Readers who like reluctantly introspective characters who are ultimately good dudes just making lots of mistakes (otherwise known as “growing up”) will be rooting for Stiggy to find a way to ditch his nihilistic attitude and avoid the path in life his father took. And while he learns and grows and changes, he does so in ways that may not even be obvious to him (but are to readers). He doesn’t have particularly profound revelations or come back to Minnesota a new man. But, forced to confront the junk he’d been swerving away from, he now has the potential to change and maybe even the impetus. Hand this to readers who like stories with strong (and sometimes not necessarily super likable) characters.

(The content warning for this book: Stiggy’s father dies by suicide. It is mentioned multiple times, including multiple references to how he died. Readers may want to skip a chapter entitled “Groundhog Day,” which includes a graphic description of his death. )

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781534405905
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Spoiler-free part of the review:

Sisters Paris and Leo (Leonora) always look out for one another. Throughout their mother’s many boyfriends and their many moves, they’ve found comfort in sticking together. Paris has recently graduated from Las Vegas High. Leo is focused on her future, busy studying for the SATs and dreaming of going to Stanford and then becoming a doctor. She can’t wait to leave Las Vegas, and her gambling stepfather (Tommy) and blackjack dealing mother, behind. She gets to do just this, even if just for a handful of hours, much sooner than she expected when her sister disappears and send her on a wild chase across Las Vegas and LA.


What seemed like a routine night out—stopping at the diner Paris works at for some pie—takes a giant turn when they meet Max, a boy sitting in another booth, reading a physics book. Paris encourages Leo to talk to him, then ditches out, taking the car and leaving Leo without her wallet, her phone, or a way to get home. It seems like Paris is maybe playing some dumb joke—leave Leo with the cute new boy—but when they find a note she left behind, it becomes more confusing. “Stay calm, Leo. This is the only way. He’s making me. You have to find me.” Understandably, Paris’s message worries Leo. Why is this the only way? Who is “he”? Where is Paris? To find out these answers, Max and Leo set off on a scavenger hunt, finding note after note urging Leo along, eventually sending them to Los Angeles. Along the way, Max and Leo, who just met hours earlier, slowly reveal bits of their personal stories. It seems odd that Max would be game for trying to find the sister of a girl he barely knows, but it all makes sense once the entire story comes to light.


The whole story has a constant undertone of desperation and sadness. Things seem seedy, possibly ominous, and revelations about big pieces of the plot and major aspects of the characters are slow to come. Careful readers will quickly understand that this is not just some mystery or caper story. There is something else going on. And even if you think you know what that something else is, you are probably wrong. The dramatic culmination of the chase makes everything (heartbreakingly, horrifyingly) clear, with a major plot twist that won’t necessarily be seen coming at all. The tension will make readers race to the end of the story, and the conclusion will make them want to start the book over again to see what they may have missed. While this is a mystery and (less so) a romance, it is the much darker and more serious elements of the story that make this a hard book to put down and an even harder book to forget.


The spoilers:

Don’t read this if you want to go into this story not knowing what the major reveal is. I hadn’t read anything about this book, so while I could see some things going on under the surface, I wasn’t prepared at all for where the book took me. This is a good thing. It was unexpected and truly caught me off guard. So really, go away right now if you want to read this book and discover on your own what happens. GO NOW!



Still here? Okay. You sure? Okay. Hi, here are spoilers:


Something is up with Tommy, the stepdad. He seems creepy. Preble has done an outstanding job of having this character that we don’t see a whole lot of come across as completely icky. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Paris is trying to protect Leo from someone. It starts to seem likely that the story we are not seeing is that Tommy has sexually assaulted Paris in some way. Leo starts to put this story together as she and Max drive all over. Near the end, Leo finds out Paris has taken a gun from a friend’s house and Leo is sure that this whole scavenger hunt was just designed to keep Leo out of the way while Paris hunts down and kills Tommy for whatever he has been doing to her.


When Leo and Max find Paris, Leo repeatedly tells her it will be okay, that Tommy won’t hurt her anymore, that he won’t touch her again. But it’s not Paris that Tommy has been raping—it’s Leo. It’s Leo. In the chapters that follow, we learn that Tommy has been repeatedly sexually assaulting her. Paris has kept waiting for Leo to say something to her about it, but Leo never has. Now the truth is out and it remains just Paris and Leo together, watching out for each other. Their mother, who always sides with Tommy, keeps asking Leo, “You’re telling the truth?” It is heartbreaking to watch her mother doubt her, to watch the girls move out, to hear from Leo what has been going on. Leo feels that Max’s protection during this horrible scene that reveals the truth is “a gift I do not deserve.” She can’t imagine Max will want anything to do with her now that he knows the truth about her. She thinks about how she trusted Max “because if a random stranger was good, then so was I.” Watching her process (slowly) what has happened and think about what this means for her life and her relationships is so painful.


There is so much to discuss here—the family dynamics, the silence, the secrets, the distrust, the suspicion, the denial, the shame and more. Because of the late reveal about the sexual violence, it forces readers to rethink what they think they know about the story and the characters. It also makes readers think about what the future will hold for Leo. This is a great addition to the list of titles that discuss sexual violence. 


ISBN-13: 9780062321305
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015