From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—This compelling first novel about two Oregon teens and the road trip that irrevocably changes their lives begins with an attention-grabbing first line: "If I'm going to tell you how I killed this kid, I can't start on the day it happened." Self-proclaimed geek and talented artist Charlie Hill, 16, normally watches the world pass him by. He's certainly not the type you'd expect would take a life. But a succession of bad decisions rooted in good intentions puts naive Charlie and his well-meaning but manipulative ex-friend Jake Tucker (bonded by childhood delinquency/water-balloon lobbing and absent fathers) on a dangerous path. It starts with hopping into the principal's Mustang (stolen by Jake) to escape bully pummeling and ends with Charlie taking responsibility for his past and his future. This well-paced coming-of-age story follows the pair from Rexton to Denver, through police chases, thievery, drag racing, suicide intervention, self-discovery, peer pressure, confrontations, breaking and entering, difficult choices, and second-degree murder in self-defense. (A bit more on Charlie's incarceration experience mentioned in the final chapter wouldn't have hurt.) The novel ends with a fresh start for both teens. The book has violence, drug use, some swearing, and conversations about sex, but nothing is graphically described. Well-developed characters and twists and turns along the way reveal the complexity of friendship, the redemptive power of second chances, the importance of looking past preconceived notions, and the lasting effects of choices (major and "insignificant" alike) and the responsibility one takes for them. This is a good choice for reluctant readers.—Danielle Serra, Cliffside Park Public Library, NJ
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“If I’m going to tell you how I killed this kid, I can’t start on the day it happened,” says high-school nerd Charlie Hill, who retraces the steps leading up to his crime in this gripping story that begins when he is about to be punched out by school bullies. Suddenly, his old friend Jake Tucker pulls up in a red ’67 Mustang. Charlie is rescued, albeit in the principal’s stolen car, and the two friends, who had grown apart, embark on a road trip from Washington State to Denver after the wild but oddly benevolent Jake decides that Charlie needs to see his estranged father. Eventually, Carter unravels the events leading up to the final tragedy, for which Jake is ready to take the blame. The early chapters feature a light tone, but the later chapters revolve around violence and teen melodrama, and this abrupt change is rather jarring. Some readers, though, will find Charlie’s plunge into life’s seamier side compelling. Fans of this title may want to move to G. Neri’s Surf Mules (2009), which features a similar road trip into the world of crime. Grades 8-11. --Todd Morning