100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (2014)
As with Andrew Smith's other books, the summary can't do it justice because what makes his books special are the way he tells the stories. On the weirdness scale, this one is between Winger and Grasshopper Jungle. There's nothing otherworldly or science fiction-y, but it's full of quirk. I mean, the most defining event from Finn's childhood is when a dead horse fell on him.
Finn is just as sympathetic a protagonist as I would expect from Smith, and while his constant mile-counting got maybe a tad tiresome, I found it authentically adolescent. Finn's friend Cade was kind of a jerk but having a friend like that added both realism and entertainment value. I didn't get to know Julie as much as I would have liked to, but I thought she was really cool. I mean, the first time she really met Finn, he was in his underwear having a seizure and pissed himself. Not only did she help him clean up, but she started dating him. And I loved her birthday present for him so much!
I loved the whole plot about Finn's dad's book The Lazarus Door. I kind of love books about fictional books, like Amazing Amy from Gone Girl or An Imperial Affliction from The Fault in Our Stars. It's especially great when, like here, they achieve pop culture fame. In The Lazarus Door, visitors from outer space arrive on Earth through the simultaneous opening of microscopic doors all over the place, and these visitors have wings like angels and heterochromatic eyes. Finn is always running into people who are intimately familiar with the book, and who suspiciously eye the scars on his back and his two different colored eyes, putting two and two together to conclude that he is not of this world. Until he self-consciously explains that his father wrote that book. (By the way, I wish this book existed. It sounds creepy and weird and Andrew Smith could totally pull it off.)
As an extra bonus, there's a road trip. I always love a good road trip. You just know something significant will happen and they won't make it to their destination and it won't even matter.
I thought Finn was a bit too level-headed at times, especially in his relationship with Julia. Teenagers are extremely passionate and dramatic and they feel all the feelings intensely, and though at first I thought "Way to be mature, Finn!" I wondered later how realistic it was. It really didn't detract from the experience, it's just something I thought about. It's entirely possible that some teenagers are just more sensible than I was.
Overall, I really liked 100 Sideways Miles. When I initially read the description on Goodreads it didn't sound super-compelling, but having read two books by Andrew Smith already I knew that didn't mean anything. For many books, it's not the plot that's important, it's the other stuff - the stuff that's hard to summarize in a nutshell - and this is one of those books. Luckily, we won't have to wait long for another. According to Edelweiss, Andrew Smith has another weird one coming out in March. Hooray!