Author: James Preller
Publication Date: 7/17/12
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Blurb(GR): The summer before his senior year, Jude (yes, he’s named after the Beatles song) gets his first job, falls in love for the first time, and starts to break away from his parents. Jude’s house is kept dark, and no one talks much—it’s been that way since his little sister drowned in a swimming pool seven years ago when Jude was supposed to be watching her.
Now, Jude is finally, finally starting to live. Really live. And then, life spins out of control. Again.
Acclaimed author James Preller explores life, death, love, faith, and resilience in his first young adult novel that will grip readers from the book’s dramatic first few pages to its emotional end.
This is one of the worst books I’ve ever read, but I say that with a bit of affection. I finished this in one evening, because it was just…riveting. I couldn’t look away! It was like this crazy mixture of horrible writing, cardboard characters, dialogue from another planet, consistency problems, and semi-poetic gibberish that all somehow combined into a slurry of pure magic. I think this phenomenon is best described by the source material itself:
“For Jude, it was like watching and enjoying a terrible movie. He loved seeing those movies with Corey, and together they spent giddy hours snorting over the best-worst movies of all time. Classics such as Roadhouse, Anaconda, The Beastmaster, and the all-time best worst, Plan 9 From Outer Space. The thing was, you absolutely had to know it was bad – that’s what put the fun in the funny. But if someone like liked it without irony: Yikes, that was plain scary.”
Scary indeed. (Also, seriously Jude? Beastmaster? That’s just a classic!) Thankfully I do not “like like” this book, so I think I’m okay.
I did, however, learn a great deal here. Or I would have if I were an alien pod person just visiting Earth for the first time. In fact I would say that this book reads quite a lot like an instruction manual on teenagers and pop-culture, as written by an alien pod person. And it really is every bit as awesome as that sounds. There’s this sort of adorable need to explain each and every pop culture reference throughout the book. For example, I learned all about the various rules and procedures of this thing that boys do called “calling shotgun” in the two page description the author so helpfully provides. And, did you know that the word “frak” actually comes from a show called Battlestar Galactica? And that there was once a popular SNL sketch featuring Christopher Walken and a cow bell? Did you know that Donnie Darko is a “first rate cult classic”? Did you know about the popularity of Chuck Norris jokes? The Big Lebowski? Austin Powers? Did you know that there was a highly “underrated” band in the 80’s and 90’s called The Cure?
Get right outta town!
This book also has some hilariously just-wrong-enough-to-sound-incredibly-weird “modern” teenage slang (unless I’ve just been out of the loop for too long):
“You getting your bronze on?”
“Go friend her…. Go click on the like button.” (about talking to a person in real life)
“about as scary as a cucumber sandwich”
“it never went viral” (about a nickname’s popularity in his high school)
“Almost two thousand balloons,” Becka said. “My parents are willing to go halfsies.”
“…greeted each other like long-lost Ping-Pong partners.”
“so tacky it rocked the house”
“wearing shorts and some kind of spaghetti-string top”
“…cute as all get-go.”
“Jude was sure that half the crowd was buzzed on something, tripping the light fantastic.”
So okay, this book is pretty informative, but what is it about (I hear you say)? Well, the short answer is: I have no idea. And the long answer is that it’s about Jude, who is having a pretty rough time. His sister died in a tragic drowning accident, and his life has never been the same. His dad neglects him by asking him to go out running but then insisting that he wear shoes and time himself. His mom neglects him by keeping their home dark, killing their plants (they have to get a plastic Christmas tree!!), and leaving him to cook his own meals from their well-stocked refrigerator. He’s passing all of his classes, hates the taste of beer, is mildly afraid of girls, and dislikes the “leering, crude, funny, sex-obsessed” talk of his peers. He’s a master guitar player who almost never plays or practices. And he’s just gotten his first job at a beach concession stand. Can he learn to throw off all of his obvious ennui and live, damn it, live?
Yes, as it turns out – he can. And the instrument of this change is of course, a girl. A quirky, “singular” girl with possibly a few “exotic…Mediterranean roots in her family tree.” A girl who blows his mind with her unique views on life and her profound words:
“Becka shifted and lay on her back, resting her head in Jude’s lap. Looking skyward, she observed, ‘It’s a tie-dye sky.’ Jude laughed. Only Becka could see the world that way.”
“I always think of the earth as a round ball, just spinning in space,’ Becka said. ‘Close your eyes. Can you feel it?”
Gosh, this is such a coincidence, because I always think of it that way too. Huh.
“’It’s a miracle we don’t fly away,’ Becka said, her voice a whisper. ‘The earth spinning around and around – you’d think we’d all just fall off.’”
“They say each star is a soul looking down on us.”
I know they say some other things about stars…like that they’re giant masses of…something or other, but eh this sounds better.
“’When you cry,’ she said, ‘I taste salt.’”
Dude, are you licking my face right now? Or have my tears somehow… vaporized and floated over to your… mouth? Either way it’s super weird.
“My mother says that people don’t have souls; we are souls.”
I think your mom’s been plagiarizing C.S. Lewis.
But wait – that’s not all! This book also has an amaaaaazing sense of humor. Observe:
“’He was up all night, calling Ralph on the big white telephone!’ That got a laugh from everyone.”
Barf humor really is pure gold.
“’Anyone need anything?’
‘Curly Fries,’ Jude said.
‘I’ll take the redhead on lane six’, Corey ordered.
“After a poor shot from Jude that left pins at each end, Roberto announced, ‘Hey, split happens.’”
Who doesn’t love a little wordplay?
“Daphne was next, a pale small blonde with bee-stung lips and dark bags under her eyes. She was either sick, undernourished, or a future runway model. Roberto had already joked that he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to bang Daphne or rush her to the emergency room. Which was pretty funny if you asked Jude.”
Gosh, thin girls are so funny!!! Should we seduce them or force them to seek medical help? It’s a laugh riot of confusion!
But wait (seriously) – there’s more. If this were an infomercial, we’d be past the 50% discount and onto the free knife set. Only in this case, it would be a free thesaurus because this book is like a synonym gold-mine. For a single word. Because these characters are super fancy and they don’t like to just “say” things (how boring!). Instead we get: explained, agreed, asked, argued, joked, enthused, announced, lamented, instructed, urged, advised, exclaimed, replied, yelled, opined, corrected, complained, cracked, and solemnly intoned.
And not only that, there is some seriously fancy writing in here. Witness:
“Gladness flickered on Becka’s face, like wind in the trees.”
I’m picturing her face flashing from glad to blank…glad-blank…glad-blankglad-blankgladblank.
“The idea was not to think or feel, just go dull and dim like a mushroom in the rain.”
Like a…mushroom…in the rain. I think that one speaks for itself. (Seriously, is that a thing that I just don't know about? Do mushrooms go dull in the rain?)
“Lily was dead and that was that, no other way to skin the cat, yet she came to his mind every day. A visitor, a neighbor ringing the bell. Here to borrow a cup of sugar? Or with some other intent?”
I hate it when my dead sister stops by my head to borrow a cup of sugar.
“The cage that protected his inner organs – kidney, liver, heart – had failed to protect him. The music stirred something in his plum heart, some desolate place the words could not reach, and the bird had flown. He thought how one day he might write a song and use that same organ sound, figured on the spot how to transcribe the notes to guitar. The heart too was an organ. A pumping mass of muscle. It would be a song without words, emotion in each note’s fuzz and intonation, the struck chord glimmering like a sun-blazoned ocean, like explosions in the sky, and he’d call the tune ‘My Sweet Zombie Boy.’”
I honestly have no idea what this means. It’s a mystery…and therein lies its brilliance.
There were even a few moments at the end when I was 90% convinced that this was going to suddenly, out of the blue become a Christian novel but sadly it never quite made it there. That really would have been the icing on the cake.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting - All For Love