by Libba Bray, 2010
I do not do zany, madcap, sprawling road trip/philosophy novels with science fiction bents and trippy endings that make you question whether any of the events of the book actually happened. This book may be perfect for teens who will later fall in love with Hunter S. Thompson and the Beats, but it sure isn’t for me.
The protagonist is a white disaffected teenage boy who learns he has Mad Cow Disease, and then, in the hospital, learns from his hot-teen-girl guardian angel that he must save himself and the world by escaping from the hospital with a hypochondriac dwarf and hopping on a bus to New Orleans. Later, they pick up a garden gnome that is actually a trapped Norse God, and these dumbass fire-being things keep popping up out of the roads and threatening to kill the ragtag crew. There is a good deal of looping language–like an obscure band name that shows up in each chapter–and Bray’s writing style is perky, snarky, and loony–everything I hate in a writer.
The message of the book seems to be “seize the day” and don’t let a terminal medical diagnosis stop you from running away from the hospital on some kind of insane mission to save the world, befriend little people, and make love to a hot angel before you die. The ending does hint at deeper, more sane meaning, which may be partly why this book has won the 2010 Printz Award, whose committee chair called it a “wildly imaginative modern day take on Don Quixote [which] is complex, hilarious, and stunning.” I have never read Don Quixote, but I bet I would like it a ton better than this.