Nobody gonna take my car
I'm gonna race it to the ground
Oooh it's a killing machine
It's got everything
Like a driving power big fat tyres
I love it I need it
I bleed it yeah it's a wild hurricane
Alright hold tight
I'm a highway star!
God I love Deep Purple. Am I the only one anymore? To me, Deep Purple is the seminal sound of teenhood. It's music you listen to in stale basement rec rooms - mindless and churning, full of movement but not getting anywhere. The long-haired, cigarette-smoking boys who hung in a greasy cluster outside the bus port door at my junior high school LIVED and DIED by Ritchie Blackmore. Sigh. Those boys smelled so bad.
It's tough to be a teenage boy. I GATHER. It sure was tough to be a teenage girl, and those bus port jerkoffs didn't make it any easier, falling silent as any girl approached only to snicker and softly catcall after she had shouldered her way through their grimy denim knot and made it to the door. So I'm not sure I have much sympathy for that little herd, mired in false bravado, winching themselves slowly up in each other's estimation with every bad word and crass comment.
Thank god the boys in these two books I'm about to talk about aren't like that. There's been some talk lately about depictions of depravity and horror in teen fiction and how that is NOT INSPIRATIONAL (Megan Cox Gurden get another job if you're going to continue to talk like that), but I'd argue that if there's anything I'd rather not see in a teen novel it's kids being shitty to one another with impunity.
However. It is worth keeping those insecure little real-boy monsters in mind whenever reading young adult fiction. Especially young adult fiction about monsters.
Boy is the name of the main character in Man Made Boy, the latest (due out October 3) from Jon Skovron. Boy lives in an underground apartment with his parents, the Monster and the Bride, amid a motley community of other odd folks (vampire, brownie, centaur, a couple of ogres, troop of trolls etc.) beneath a Broadway theater, never coming out in the light of day.
Boy has inherited his father's size and strength and his mom's technical skills - even without sharing any of their genetic material, stitched together as he was out of parts stolen from the morgue. He's kind of an IT guy, fixing the theater's computers, maintaining the servers, and coding for fun. In a fun parody of the IT-guy stereotype, Boy is popular with his online peers, but shuns face-to-face human interaction due to past incidents of bullying (in his parents' case involving pitchforks and fire). One day, however, Boy realizes he can pass for human- albeit a human horribly injured in a tragic thresher accident - and he impetuously decides to take off.
His adventures, full of ultra-imaginative detail, the creatures he meets, the unbalanced sentient computer virus he created pretty much just to see if he could (remind you of anyone?), and his own observations of our world come together in a book that is original, tender, crass, and inventive.
He gets all the way from New York to L.A., traveling with a variety of companions, including a brilliantly-written character who is the descendent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And while Skovron doesn't often indulge in travelogue, when he does, it's transcendant:
There's something about walking in New York City, alone, without a destination. At first, it feels like there are too many people on the sidewalk. They slow you down, get in the way. But after a little while, you find the rhythm of the city. You start navigating around people without thinking, slipping between groups, stepping along the curb, shifting between parking meters, and even occasionally stepping out into the street. If you try to fight the city head on, it will pulverize you. So you have to adjust yourself to accommodate it. The harder it gets, the more flexible you get, until you feel like you're just a part of it. Then you hit a flow, everything opens up, and it becomes easy.
Not bad, eh? Works as a metaphor too, if you want it.
I have had my eye on Jon Skovron ever since the 2009 book Struts & Frets, an under-the-radar realistic teen boy book that managed to be emotionally affecting (senile grandfather) and snortingly funny (senile grandfather!) at the same time. If you've never read it, pick it up along with Man Made Boy.
And check it out: I just found this sentence I wrote about Man Made Boy on Edelweiss. I am not generally a blurber, but I think this is a blurb!
The Munsters meets Huckleberry Finn in this fast and funny picaresque about finding your own way while learning to accept responsibility.
Helen is a minotaur, Troy a hero. They both work at Magic Burger, or they did until the night their boss, an elf named Mr Whiteleaf, tried to use Helen as a human sacrifice to his god, which had manifested in the middle of the burger joint as a pile of raw meat. Naturally, this sends them on a classic quest - in a classic car - during which they will be tested, challenged, pursued by orcs, frustrated by oracles, and maybe fall in love (but not in a gross way). This is Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest.
A. Lee Martinez has been writing funny mash-up sci-fi/fantasy for years, and while a few teens have latched onto his books (In the Company of Ogres, Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain), this is I think his first one that features teenage main characters. Or average American teen characters. Semi average. Enchanted-American teen characters. Well, they're vertebrates anyway. My 12-year-old cannot get enough of this book. He's read it twice already.
It is juvenile, in a getting-doused-with-dragon-vomit-is funny kind of way, but sweet, and devoid of any content that might make it an iffy choice for younger readers (I am required by law to assess this when reviewing an adult book on Pink Me) (that is a lie). Helen and Troy are very realistic teenagers who grapple with expectations, self-image (poor Helen is so self-conscious about her fur that she is terrified of rain, lest she start smelling like wet minotaur), and the tension between outer and inner beauty.
There are a couple of neat passages that detail just how much fun this author is having subverting the old Hero's Journey. On their way to the "Mystery Cottage," which announces itself via a trail of billboards just like any other roadside attraction:
Helen suspected what they'd find. There would be somebody there to guide them on their journey. Probably some sort of challenge, internal or external. Like a monster to fight or a boulder to be lifted. Or some sort of metaphysical revelation followed by an unpleasant confrontation of inner truth.
Gods above, she was hoping for the monster.
It's like Terry Pratchett on a sugar high, like adult Neil Gaiman without the sex or darkness, like Douglas Adams except in the American Southwest and with far fewer insane characters, like Percy Jackson if the heroes of Percy Jackson were Clarisse and Apollo.
And listen, I would try a blurb - I'm obviously on a roll - but this from the author beats anything I'd write: If you buy only one book this year where a minotaur fights a gang of weekend biker orcs in an amusement park, this is definitely the one I recommend.
To sum up: these are two books with driving energy, picturesque writing, pep and hope and imagination. They are less like Deep Purple and more like Deep Purple covered by an 11-year-old Japanese rock and roll prodigy: