Despite my best efforts, I don't find many books that appeal to my school-hating, sports-loving, techno-god, artistic, rap-writing sons. They just don't find many books they even want to try. I think a lot of this is because the high school guys in books just aren't kids that my boys know or want to know.
I spent a good chunk of my afternoon reading STUPID FAST, a new YA novel by Geoff Herbach, an author that I really believe knows boys like mine. In a recent blog post, "So That Post- Pubescent Boys Shall Read" Herbach writes of his experiences as an adolescent:
"In some ways, I was a pretty mainstream kid: I played sports. I played in the orchestra (bad cellist). I joined clubs, etc. I looked good on paper. But, at the same time, I didn’t feel normal. I was paranoid. My feelings were bruised a lot. I had the sense that I didn’t understand the world. I showered twice a day, but always felt dirty. I always felt on the outside of something. Unpleasant. These weren’t terrible times, at all, but I often felt terrible. I could’ve used a good book…
Oh! I was so alone… Um, wrong, dork.
Having taught 18 and 19-year-olds for the last six years, I’ve come to the understanding that this generalized sense of somehow being unfit is the most generalizable aspect of teendom. It does not matter what demographic the kid comes from. What gender. What clique or sub-group of that clique. When my students write about high school, most write about themselves as feeling like dorks, being dorks, standing on the outside looking in.
These days, there are lots of titles geared for teen girls that speak to this outsiderness. There are not many for boys. Why?"
Felton Reinstein, the main character in STUPID FAST is a fifteen-year-old geek, a nerd, a dork. Felton's life is further complicated by a very difficult family life. His professor father committed suicide when Felton was five. Felton lives with his mom, who insists on being called Jerri, and a younger brother, Andrew, a gifted pianist.
The year he turns 15, Felton's luck begins to change. He begins to grow. And grow. And grow. In a PE fitness test, he discovers he has also become much faster, in fact, he has become one of the fastest kids in the school. The track coaches beg him to come out for their team. The football coaches also can't wait to get hold of this rising star. Felton makes new friends and finds himself fitting in with a crowd he had never imagined joining. He also falls in love with Aleah, a concert pianist, whose father is teaching a summer course at the local university.
While things with his peers are on the rise, however, things at home are falling apart. Felton's mother is sinking deeper and deeper into the throes of depression/mental illness. Felton escapes to the weight room or practice field, but his little brother has nowhere to go. And things just keep getting worse, and worse, and worse…
I loved this book. Loved Felton, whose insecurities mirror those of the teenage boys I know. Loved that STUPID FAST was about football and the power of sports as an outlet in kids' lives. Loved Felton's less than perfect family. Loved the format of the book- short chapters with great titles.
This one is going on my kitchen table in about the next five minutes. One of my guys just might pick it up!