Traveling is invariably an adventure for children. Their fresh eyes and minds can make even the most mundane trip memorable. The short stories in Donald R. Gallo’s marvelous collection, Destination Unexpected, are all about the journeys young people make, both literally and figuratively, from city to country, from ignorance to understanding.
Author Joyce Sweeney leads off the anthology with “Something Old, Something New,” the story of a black teenager’s bus trip across town to accept an award a small journey with big consequences. Distances increase in Margaret Peterson Harris’ “My People,” when a shy girl from Appalachia journeys to Mercer University for a week-long camp for high school students. There, she finds undreamed-of horizons opening up for her. The teenage girl in “Tourist Trapped,” by Ellen Wittlinger, travels from Kansas to Cape Cod for a summer, but her horizons are far from open.
Not all of the trips featured here involve mileage. Some of the most important journeys take place in the mind, as David Lubar’s “Bread on the Water” demonstrates. The story follows a young man on a journey of conscience, as he gets a lesson in charity from a friend. Not all of these young characters are innocent, either. Will Weaver’s story, “Bad Blood,” concerns the youngest member of a family of grifters, and his dogged quest to convince an old woman to give him a classic Corvette. In “Keep Smiling,” Alex Flinn’s protagonist seeks redemption after a drunk driving fatality, and Kimberly Willis Holt shows how an adopted Chinese girl and her big brother are drawn together in “August Lights.” Travel can be both an internal and external experience, but the most wonderful journey is, in the end, the one made from adolescence to adulthood. Destination Unexpected is a fine tribute to that journey. Serious, contemporary literature for young people, it’s a book that teen readers will enjoy.