Author: Adam Rapp
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction
I'm going to get tired of making this comparison when I talk about this book, but it's the best way I can describe it--think of Holden Caulfield. Now think of him if he were living on his own in Washington state, getting hand jobs from vaguely handicapped young women. Like Holden, Punkzilla (a.k.a. Jamie), is living in a world where he is estranged from his family, though closely tied to an older brother. Though, rather unlike Holden, Punkzilla is markedly less jaded by the world and more interested in people and willing to trust in them and believe in their goodness, particularly since he is dependent on the goodness of people as he travels from Washington state all the way to Tennessee, to visit his gay and ill older brother.
For myself, I love this sort of story. I like weird kids (possibly because I am one), and while some of the content made me feel uncomfortable (like the bizarre sexual encounters, or the sudden claimings and subsequent tossing aways Punkzilla experiences with various adults), I largely enjoyed the read. The story moves quickly as it's filled with action and laugh-out-loud bits and it's written in letter form. I really loved the fact that the story is made up of letters, because, unlike, say, a journal, you not only get the inner workings of Punkzilla, but you also get a sense of his relationship with his brother, plus you also read letters from Punkzilla's friends and parents, which help fill in gaps you might not otherwise have filled.
While this is certainly one of those coming of age stories akin to, as mentioned, Catcher and the Rye, it also deals rather subtley with adults and their relationships with children (their own and others). Adults are largely NOT present in this book, and those that are disappear rather quickly and can't be counted on. There is a very big sense of abandonment (and not just of Punkzilla). And though the book can be a quick read, it's powerful, because makes you think about how society nurtures (or doesn't nurture) its children and what we, as adults and parents, could possibly do better or how one generation is clearly not quite sure in how to deal with another.
Comparable Reads: Okay, so we've covered "Catcher", but I also think Rule of the Bone is another similar sort of YA novel (troubled kid takes a trip down to Jamaica to find his father), as well as the book I'm currently reading now, Going Bovine. All four books deal with smart, wise-ass boys who are on a journey, and, to some degree, tell us something about the world and why it's made them as strangely messed up as they are. All are really interesting and pretty funny (especially Going Bovine).
Who This Book is For: I think a safe range is thirteen through sixteen (though older kids obviously could enjoy this, but they might find Punkzilla a little immature). I would be very, every hesitant to hand this book off to a twelve year old, only because I so want twelve year olds to be TWELVE, and this book deals with a lot of crazy stuff that are teenage issues. And while there are lots of twelve year old and younger kids who are acquainted with the issues that Punkzilla deals with, I really don't see the point of throwing more of this stuff at them.