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Downers Grove Paperback – April 9, 2001

3.3 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Disquieting in its timeliness, Hornburg's (Bongwater) second novel is a tale of violence among high school cliques and a gritty portrait of adolescent pluck amid morbid chaos. Narrator Crystal Methedrine Swanson is on the verge of graduating from Downers Grove High in Illinois. Chrissie, as her friends call her, has a lot to deal with on the home front: her father has left without a trace, her brother is addicted to heroin and her mother is dating an increasingly sinister new beau. Chrissie and her boy-crazy, sexpot best friend, Tracy, also worry about "the curse" of their high school: each year before graduation, somebody in the senior class dies in a bizarre way. One year a math whiz killed several people in the parking lot before turning the shotgun on himself; other graduations were marred by suicide, drowning and several drunk-driving accidents. After Chrissie beats up a jock who tried to rape her at a party, she becomes terrified that she will be the next statistic. The jock and his buddies pursue an escalating plot of revenge beginning with a vicious car chase. They also set fire to Chrissie's school locker and strew dead dogs on her lawn. Adding to the plot twists of this teenybopper drama is Chrissie's obsession with a 26-year-old mechanic--cum-race-car driver named Bobby. Tough, insensitive and super-cool, Bobby is the kind of character only a teenage girl could love. Hornburg's prose is rife with adolescent jokes and lingo, some of it hilarious and sharp. At other times the humor wears thin, especially because Chrissie's youthful wisecracking does not segue smoothly into passages of soul-searching introspection. Yet Chrissie's relentlessly vernacular teenage voice takes up residence in the reader's mind, establishing her vulnerability and demonstrating the courage she shows on her stressful road to maturity. Photos. (Aug.) FYI: Hornburg is managing editor of Grove/Atlantic.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Hornburg, author of Bongwater (1995), alternates wit with lyricism in this tale about the last weeks of a suburbanite high-schooler's senior year. As her name suggests, Crystal Methedrine Swanson (she goes by Chrissie) comes from an off-kilter family. Dad has disappeared. Her brother is a basement-dwelling, music-addled junkie. Mom, anxious for relief, is dating a churchgoing man. Even Grandma is strange, but she, at least, provides the novel's spiritual center. Chrissie's troubles begin when she falls for a feral mechanic and earns herself a pack of murderous enemies after defending herself against a drunken assault at a kegger. As she and her best friend, the libidinous VW-driving Tracy, mug their way through a series of increasingly unconvincing misadventures, Hornburg allows his electrifying portrayal of adolescent angst to mutate into a mishmash of movie-and MTV-generated cliches. But his evocation of the suburbs as "ghettos of meaninglessness" and his sensitivity to both the violence of teen culture and the innate radiance of young people make this flawed novel worth reading. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (April 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802137938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802137937
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,915,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Like some of the other reviewers,I grew up in DG for 20 years(in fact,parents still live there) and picked up the book partly out of curiousity to see how my hometown was portrayed. The plot and characters are a bit undeveloped thus you don't feel any true connection building between yourself and the book. The pop culture references ala Prince imply that this was supposed to take place in the 80s(the decade I went to Downers Grove South High)but then throws in the "Kurt & Courtney"movie,an obvious 90s reference. I really felt like the book was a poor man's "Catcher in the Rye" than anything else. Maybe I'm just getting old but the teens were just amazingly whiny.

The thing that bugged me were the glaring mistakes about not only the town Downers and its teens but Chicago,in general. When writers research their material,they usually go into a comprehensive sojourn for accuracy. This is where Hornburg slips. Everyone in both the city and suburbs know that North Ave runs east-west,not north-south. Wicker Park is mispelled "Whicker". Bolingbrook is mispelled "Bowling Brook". While Downers Grove has about 3 movie theatres(the Tivoli being the oldest while the others are newer and are in strip malls)none of them would've ever shown anything as edgy as "Kurt and Courtney' .That's what the Music Box,Piper's Alley and Facets Multimedia in the city's for. And why did Hornburg feel the need to make Lemont Rd and Main St two separate roads? THEY'RE THE SAME STREET! As big as Downers Grove is,Hornburg chose to focus on most of the events between the train station,63rd and 75th streets. This would be fine if he sometimes didn't make Downers sound like a tiny one stoplight town. My biggest beef was,hands down, the portrayal of Downers Grove youth.
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Format: Paperback
I was a girl graduating from High School in Downers Grove in 1999. I should be able to relate to Chrissy.

Frankly, I am disgusted. This is an awful novel. I am offended by the geographic inaccuracies, the unabashedly ridiculous personalities, and the fact Hornburg considered spending an hour flipping through his 1970s yearbook as "research."

I hate that I spent a few hours of my life reading this book. There was nothing redeeming about it; more often than not, it was an embarrassment. I wish that I could give this book zero stars. This dockle owes Downers Grove an apology. Actually, Downers Grove is not that great (though not as bad as he says).

Hornburg owes *me* an apology. I really wanted to like this book.
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Format: Paperback
In attempting to tell the story of Chrissie Swanson -- a young woman who as a highschool senior has little hope for a glorious future -- Michael Hornburg fails.
He wishes to present Chrissie as a potentially clever yet deeply cynical person. Unfortunately, most of her narration is nothing but a ridiculous collection of mixed metaphors and shallow, failed attempts at insight.
A character without depth does not usually work well as the central figure in a novel. And it would be the job of an author with far more skill than Hornburg to write such a novel.
As for plot, this novel is dreadfully unoriginal and the story contains so many warmed-over plot elements and tired episodes that unwarranted attention is drawn to the author's lack of skill. It is one thing to present a situation which we've seen before -- in fiction or in our own life -- but to do so without giving a fresh perspective or meaningful context? Why should an author bother?
Hornburg's failure extends so far as to miss important elements regarding the locale of his novel. Now, I'm all for poetic license...but when several other weaknesses in a novel are accompanied by a slip-shod handling of the details which are supposed to provide realism, my estimation of an author is not going to improve.
Certainly, as a resident of the Chicago area who is familiar with the setting of this novel, I may know some things that the general reader does not. So, I'm not going to make a big deal about this.
But even without regard to that, any reader who wants an intelligent, well-written novel to read should not bother with this.
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By A Customer on June 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to like this book. It was recommended to me and I read the back and got excited. However, as soon as I started it, I knew something was wrong. I couldn't get a clear picture of any of the characters, and only saw a middle-aged guy trying to present teenage girls by using embarrassingly inappropriate pop-culture references. I never figured out what kind of girls Chrissie and Tracy were really supposed to be. Were they generic teenyboppers obsessed with hair and makeup? Counter-cultural punk/alternative/goth outcasts? Sharp-witted critics of society? My confusion began when Chrissie said that Tracy got her into hair and stuff like that, but also "started [her] as a vegan," which didn't seem realistic for either one of their characters, and which ended up making the author sound particularly stupid considering Chrissie went on to talk about all the milk she put in her coffee and oatmeal (vegans don't eat dairy products).
I read the whole thing in a few hours because I was curious as to whether it might get better. It didn't. Its plot was slightly intriguing for a second, because I wanted to know whether the girls would die or go to jail. It wasn't until I finished the whole thing that I realized that there hadn't been any character development or plot development...at the end, I still didn't have a grasp on who the girls were or what they had been through (except in a vague, generic way), I didn't believe in Chrissie's relationship with Bobby at all, and I wondered why the mom and brother had even been put into the book in the first place, considering they were just one-sided cardboard cutouts in the background. Actually, that's pretty much what all of the characters were except for Chrissie, who was too contradictory to be one-sided.
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