From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up–Fourteen-year-old Jamie–street name Punkzilla–is AWOL from military school. He's already lived hand to mouth in a west coast city, stealing iPods, doing cheap drugs, and getting the occasional joyless hand job. Now he is headed to Memphis where his oldest brother, Peter, a gay playwright, is dying from cancer. His story is told through his letters to Peter as he hitchhikes across the country, written in the backseats of cars, under a tree where a man hanged himself, and ultimately in retrospect when he reaches his journey's sad end. Along the way he meets the good, the bad, and the skewed, including a girl who gives him his first experience of loving intercourse. Like his brother, punk boy Jamie will never fulfill the expectations of his rigidly conservative father or meet the needs of his ineffectual mother. As in 33 Snowfish (Candlewick, 2003), Rapp pulls no punches in depicting the degrading life of children on the streets. The choice to live free from parents and school comes at a cost–to survive Jamie becomes both exploited and exploiter. But there is more here than the sordid streets. Impulsive and naive as he may be, Jamie is struggling for something that just might come close to integrity. Readers can see the good in him and even in his infuriating parents. In the end he finds shelter with his brother's lover, who opens the door to the creative life, a more intelligent and focused world-outside-the-box where Jamie just might find what he needs. Exquisitely true in its raw but vulnerable voice, this story is a compulsive read.–Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
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*Starred Review* The 61-word run-on sentence on the first page sets the stream-of-consciousness tone, and then two pages later there’s hand jobs and meth—yep, it’s a Rapp novel, all right. And the quality hits the high standards of 33 Snowfish (2003) and Under the Wolf, Under the Dog (2004). Fourteen-year-old Jamie (aka “Punkzilla”) has gone AWOL from his military school, is off his meds, and is making his way from Oregon to Memphis, where his older brother, Peter, is dying of cancer. Though he is thankful to leave behind his career as an iPod thief, life on the road doesn’t seem much better: his fellow Greyhound riders are frightening, he gets jumped in a roadside restroom, and his androgynous features land him in increasingly disturbing situations. You expect such bleakness from Rapp, but it’s the flashes of humor and optimism that exhilarate. Beneath a surface of disease, despair, and disfigurements, Rapp’s road trip is populated with good souls who, despite their circumstances, make significant sacrifices to help Punkzilla. Rapp constructs the book as a series of unsent letters to Peter and punctuates them with correspondence, some old enough to be heartbreakingly out of date, that Punkzilla has received from friends and family. This is devastating stuff, but breathtaking, too. Grades 10-12. --Daniel Kraus
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