100 Sideways Miles
By Andrew Smith
Expected publication September 2, 2014 by Simon & Schuster
Finn Easton is not an alien. Yes, he does have two different color eyes and a scar on his back, traits he shares with the aliens in a famous novel, written by his father. But he is not an alien, just a kid trying to figure out his place in the world. And, when he meets the lovely Julia Bishop, he just might be on the right path.
I was very excited to discover that Smith had two books publishing this year, and I was even more excited to read this after I finished the truly excellent Grasshopper Jungle (review forthcoming, because clearly I still haven't mastered the art of reviewing things in any logical order). Sadly, this book didn't quite live up to my admittedly lofty expectations.
Let's start with the good - the characters. Man, Andrew Smith. He just gets teenagers. Every novel of his I've read has been filled to the brim with excellent characters who practically leap off the page to tell you their stories. Finn is no exception. He felt real. I wanted to give him a big hug at some times and at others, I wanted to smack the nonsense out of him. His voice is strong and truthful and if teens aren't reading Smith's books, they are missing out. What is especially excellent about Smith's books is that he doesn't stop with his protagonists - all his secondary characters are interesting as well. Cade, for example. At first glance, he's a stereotype but, as the book progresses, he becomes a much more nuanced character who broke my heart a little. That's the thing about a Smith book - you're almost guaranteed a little heartbreak.
I really enjoyed the way this story was told, almost in vignettes, and I thought Finn's measuring time in miles was really fascinating. As I've mentioned before, I love books that lead you to questions about serious topics without preaching or feeling painfully obvious. Smith is great at writing about things that make you want to ask big questions: what does it take to be a hero? Do all heroes start out great or can one become that greatness? How do my dreams differ from my parent's dreams for me? It's really thought-provoking stuff without feeling heavy-handed, something I think teens will really appreciate.
Things that didn't quite stand up for me: I wish Julia had been given a more prominent role. Actually, in general, Smith's female characters could do with more agency of their own, but it bothered me particularly here because there were hints of a really interesting character that I would have loved to get to know better. Once again, I find myself quibbling with the summary/jacket copy (I read an ARC, so I'm not sure what the final jacket copy will read). I find it almost another case of false advertising - the second paragraph is devoted to the time after Julia moves away, when Finn and Cade head out on a road trip that takes a dramatically unexpected turn. However, once again, this is an event that doesn't occur until very late in the novel, leaving me to spend much of the novel in anticipation of events that didn't happen until I'd nearly reached the end. Yes, the time after Julia leaves is quite defining for Finn and the road trip certainly is a major turning point. But putting it in the summary leads me to a false belief that it's going to happen sooner rather than later in the story. Maybe I'm the only one who finds this to be an issue, but it seems to be happening more and more.
Overall, this is another solid read from Smith, one that I imagine will find an audience and one I'll be happy to recommend.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.