German teenager Mike Klingenberg is an average student. He goes unnoticed by the other students, has an unrequited crush on the hottest girl in class, and is just a bit boring. But when Andrej Tschichatschow, aka Tschick, shows up, things change. Tschick is definitely interesting—he sleeps in class, always looks like he’s been in a fight, and just might be part of the Russian Mafia. When Mike and Tschick are not invited to popular girl Tatiana’s summer birthday party, they decide an adventure is in store. They steal a car and head out on a road trip across Germany. Do they have any idea what they’re doing? Not a clue. But this is their chance to take charge and do something. While some of their mishaps are a bit over-the-top and Tschick’s big secret is revealed without much of a punch, Mike’s journey from dull to confident teen is an enjoyable one. Well translated, this is a good choice for readers looking for a contemporary realistic novel with a humorous sense of adventure. Grades 9-12. --Sarah Bean Thompson
Kirkus Starred Review
Social misfits hit the Autobahn.
Mike Klingenberg has just finished another boring, socially awkward year in middle school and is staring down a solitary two-week stint at home, thanks to his mother’s latest round of rehab and his father’s “business trip” with a suspiciously attractive personal assistant. Just as he’s watering the lawn, imagining himself lord of a very small manor in suburban Berlin, class reject Tschick shows up in a “borrowed” old Soviet-era car, and the boys hatch a plan to hit the road. Mike’s rich interior life—he meditates on beauty and the meaning of life and spins self-mocking fantasies of himself as a great essayist—hasn’t translated well to the flirtatious physical swagger required by 8th grade. Tschick, meanwhile, is a badly dressed Russian immigrant who often shows up to school reeking of alcohol and who is also given to profound leaps of psychological insight. Their road trip (destination: Wallachia, a German euphemism for “the middle of nowhere”; also a region of Romania) is peopled by unexpected, often bizarre, largely benign characters who deepen Mike’s appreciation for humanity and life. Each episode in the boys’ journey grows more outrageous, leading readers to wonder how far they’ll go before coming to a literal screeching (and squealing) halt.
In his first novel translated into English, Herrndorf sits squarely and triumphantly at the intersection of literary tall tale and coming-of-age picaresque.
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
German novelist Herrndorf makes his YA (and U.S.) debut with this action- and emotion-packed story of surprise summer adventure. When German eighth-grader Mike Klingenberg discovers that he’s among the few “Boring kids and losers... Russians, Nazis and idiots” who are not invited to his crush Tatiana’s birthday party, he is devastated. Mike is facing a miserable summer, with his mother in rehab and father away at a “business meeting” with his sexy assistant, when his new Russian classmate, Tschick (whom Mike considers “trash”), arrives at his house in a stolen car. An unlikely compatibility leads to a candy-fueled road trip, complicated by their lack of a map or cell phone. Driving all over Germany, the boys face conundrums like avoiding the police, buying gas and food when clearly underage, and vaguely seeking Tschick’s grandfather. Prepared by life to expect ill will, Mike and Tschick instead meet “almost only people from the one percent who weren’t bad.” Beginning at the end, with Mike narrating the explanation suggested by the title, this alternately wild, sad, hilarious, and tender tale chronicles the development of a strange and beautiful friendship.