Title: The Last Exit to Normal
Author: Michael Harmon
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 11, 2008)
Three years ago, Ben Campbell’s was as normal as could be. Then his dad suddenly announced he was gay. Now Ben has no mother, she walked out the door and never looked back. He’s doing every drug he can get his hands on. Then a year ago Ben cleaned himself up. For almost an entire year he hasn’t gotten into trouble, he’s done well in school, and he’s sort of civil with everyone. But then he goes and gets arrested and that’s that. His dad, and his “Momdad” Edward, take Ben and move him to the middle of nowhere, Rough Butte, Montana, population 400, to live with Edward’s mother Miss Mae.
So now, at the age of 17, Ben finds himself starting over all over again. Now the city boy has to learn to live in the backward country of Montana, where everyone drives huge trucks, wear Wrangler’s and Ropers, and works. Really works. But the hardest part is to come for now he has to deal with the creepy guy next door, big brother’s looking to scare the potential boyfriend away and a grandmother who isn’t afraid to whack him with a spoon at the first opportunity.
The decoder card to the universe wasn’t included in the box of cereal God gave humanity. At the ripe old age of seventeen, I’d at least figured out that no matter how hard you try to guess what happens next, you can’t. Life wasn’t set up that way and we don’t like it, so we spend most of our time running around like a bunch of dimwits.
If the best part of My Most Excellent Year was Augie, the best part of The Last Exit to Nowhere is Ben. Ben’s voice is spot on ‘teenager.’ He’s angry, sarcastic, challenging, very intelligent, honest, brash, stubborn, romantic, awkward, comical, depressed, and funny, and like most teenagers he shifts from one emotion to the next with surprising speed. Ben’s relationship with his dad was the best drawn plot of the book. It felt real and complex. The problems the two had, Ben accepting his father’s homosexuality, his father’s desire for that acceptance, but unwillingness to deal with it himself spoke true to me.
Harmon pulled no punches with this coming-of-age story. It felt much more grounded in reality than My Most Excellent Year and actually left me in tears a couple of times. This story of a misfit boy who is struggling to fix all the lives around him while trying to figure out his own is powerful and a must read. Don’t miss it.
Check back tomorrow for my decision; will it be My Most Excellent Year or The Last Exit to Normal? Even I don’t know yet!!!
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