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Ruth 66 Paperback – December 21, 2013
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Now Charlie’s respectable Oma Ruth has careened back into his life in a shocking new incarnation: a freewheeling hippie in kaftan and beads, unafraid to swap barbed words with her appalled daughter, nor to insist that Charlie accompany her on her road trip. He’s dead-set against it—he’d just found his dream job at a record store—and is disgusted when his mother dumps him on her mother without hesitation.
So Charlie sets out with Ruth—and, as it turns out, with Opa Bill, whose urn rests on the dashboard. At first, Ruth’s bizarre behavior and Charlie’s resentment at being dragged along make for a very uncomfortable ride. She insists on traveling without modern technology, but when she relents and allows his iPod and a new stereo system, the thaw begins.
Although "Route 66" is the road they travel as they head west, this is no travelogue about nostalgic remnants of yesterday. This is a journey of discovery: of Charlie’s strength and capacity to love, of Ruth’s ability to be honest with herself, of her secrets and those of her late husband; and of the people who will teach them along the way.
There’s the comical Count Doobie, and Jonas the Swede, who appreciates Ruth’s beauty and makes her feel truly free. There’s also heartbroken Barry, who with his daughter Rosie barely keep afloat a strip joint in the middle of nowhere, Texas. And there’s even Charlie’s embittered sister Becky, who rediscovers compassion and her affection for her twin away from their mother’s toxic influence.
Above all, there’s Rosie, the beautiful young woman who pines for her missing mother and valiantly offers to become a stripper to help her father’s business. She sets Charlie’s heart and hormones on fire, turning him into a bumbling puppy before he learns to overcome his insecurities and grow into a hero of sorts. Their relationship becomes entangled in the revelation of Ruth’s secrets, but the resolution is both satisfying and a bit of a relief.
A word of caution to the straight-laced reader: Ruth has embraced the hippie lifestyle to its fullest, and so you’ll find pot-smoking, swearing, nudity, and sex, as Charlie and Rosie let loose their teenage hormones and Ruth re-engages her lost libido. But far more than that, there is love, forgiveness, and bravery on this journey, not to mention a lot of laughs, some wonderfully wacky moments, and at times exciting and literally explosive revelations.
For the most part, Ruth 66 is an enjoyable, offbeat road trip filled with an appropriate amount of quirkiness. Although the novel is a little on the long side for a YA novel, the action unfolds smoothly and consistently. On the downside, the novel sometimes resorts to crude moments of slapstick humor, which the reader (depending on his sense of humor) may or may not appreciate. In addition to this, the novel’s closing act contains elements that I felt I had seen many times before in Hollywood films, and pivots on a major misunderstanding that, I feel, could have been easily cleared up had certain characters not resorted to melodrama. On the whole, though, it’s a pretty solid novel, recommended for Ages 16-Up.
I really enjoyed the book, from the rich characters, to the musical references, to the road trip mishaps (many of which I've suffered myself). I related to it on so many levels. My family always traveled by car, not having the money to fly, and we often camped on vacation instead of staying in motels. Though I did not have a wild, carefree grandmother, my mother was no stranger to the art of thoroughly embarrassing her 2 teenage children on road trips. I feel Charlie's pain...and I understand the feeling of being a little off beat, and feeling afraid to stand up for yourself. And I can more than relate to the awkward feelings of first attraction/love and making a complete moron of yourself in front of the object of that attraction. I love that depiction of weirdness that comes with that first experience of lust and just wanting to crawl under a rock when someone makes a comment that calls you out on your feelings.
I also enjoyed all the Dutch references, that I now understand because I live here. But I like that there aren't a whole bunch of Dutch phrases thrown in that no one can read. I find that really difficult in reading books in which characters are from an area where a different language is often spoken...authors throw in dialog in French, or German, or Spanish, no doubt to show they have done their research or to prove their knowledge of the culture, but without a thought to the people who will be reading their book and not understand a thing that just went on because they don't speak that language. This book had a word here or there, but it always explained what it was so the reader wasn't lost.
One thing I was confused about is the Author's origin. It doesn't sound like she is American. Her English is perfect, but the main 16 year old characters don't have their drivers licenses and they keep talking about learning to drive, etc. That would almost never happen in the US. Most 16 year olds are excited for their 16th birthdays because they can go right out and get their licenses...they book their tests in advance. This sounded like the kids were waiting until they are 18. There was a reference to Rosie being 17. Living in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, she would almost certainly have her license by that time. But that's a minor little detail and it doesn't take away from the story, just made me wonder. Also, she doesn't handle the sex in the way most Americans would when it comes to a teenage story. (i.e. it's not prude)
The story is fun, quirky, a bit out there and probably not really all that plausible, but that's why it's fiction and it's fun to read. I would recommend it to anyone who has a bit of off-beat humor, and to anyone who likes Rock and roll history. If you have issues with sexual innuendos, this book is not for you. It's light, but it's there, and if you are uncomfortable with the casual handling of sex, especially among teens, this will be out of your comfort zone.