"I don’t mean to be weird P but in your letter you said how you wanted the truth about stuff even if it’s ugly and trust me it’s going to get a little ugly,” writes Jamie, aka Punkzilla, in this gritty novel told in letters. AWOL from the military school his conservative parents forced him to attend, 14-year-old Jamie has been scraping by in Portland, Oregon, rooming in a boarding house, stealing iPods for Fat Larkin, experimenting with meth and suffering from ennui.
When he receives word that one of his older brothers, Peter, a gay playwright living in Memphis and a fellow black sheep of the family, has cancer, the teen starts a long, strange journey to see his brother before he dies. In stream-of-consciousness prose, filled with idiomatic expressions, visceral details and dark humor, Jamie describes traveling by Greyhound bus and hitched rides and staying in seedy motels. Each interstate stop features a new cast of evocative, unpredictable characters from a boy genius obsessed with robots to an old lady with a leaky eye to a caring transsexual named Lewis. Filling in the gaps of Jamie’s story are letters from his depressed mother, his father, “the Major,” and other family and friends.
In this modern-day version of Kerouac’s On the Road, the teen discovers the vastness of the United States and tells his brother, “P life is really weird really really weird but I’m sure you already know that.” With a raw and unique style, author Adam Rapp draws attention to the marginalized youth of this country in a manner that’s never been accomplished before. Just as pressing as Jamie’s time crunch to reach his brother is his need to connect to other people—a need, Jamie shows us, we all have.
Angela Leeper is a director at the University of Richmond.