By Andrew Smith
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Read my review of Grasshopper Jungle
GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is one of the best books of the year, in my opinion. So I was extremely excited to read 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, Andrew Smith's second book this year and first contemporary since his breakout novel WINGER.
First, I would highly recommend that you avoid reading the blurb. The blurb focuses on events that happen somewhere around page 250 or a 288-page novel. 100 SIDEWAYS MILES isn't the type of novel to be ruined by spoilers, but it still kills a bit of the momentum.
Finn Easton has been an epileptic since the day a dead horse fell on him. (The same event killed his mother.) He finds his epilepsy beautiful, but has trouble feeling like it doesn't define him, especially since his father wrote a famous sci-fi novel that drew strongly on his story. At the same time, he's mostly a normal teenage boy, hanging out with his best friend Cade Hernandez and making crude jokes. Things don't completely change for Finn when he meets Julia Bishop, but falling in love does change some things.
Smith has an incredible knack for teen voices. His books involve outlandish events and outsized personalities, but his books succeed because his characters seem like actual flawed, confused people. At the same time, it feels like Smith is drawing a bit from the same well. Perhaps it is because of reading 100 SIDEWAYS MILES and GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE less than six months apart, but there is a bit of a sameness to the style and the mix of the mundane and fantastical.
I know Smith can do stories that sound different (see THE MARBURY LENS), but his recent works have a strong authorial stamp. They're still wonderful stories, both technically and artistically, and they stand out from the crowd. But I feel like they stand out less if they blend into each other.
100 SIDEWAYS MILES is well worth reading. It's a quick, satisfying story about falling in love, growing older, and finding direction. It's better than most books I've read lately. At the same time, it felt a little like Smith spinning his wheels. I'm ready to see him push it full throttle again.