Sunday, August 30, 2015

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles
by Andrew Smith

Hardcover, 277 pages
Published September 2, 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (First edition)
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Awards: National Book Award Longlist for Young
               People's Literature, 2014
               NPR Best Book of the Year for Young Adults,

MLA: Smith, Andrew. 100 Sideways Miles. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014. Print. ISBN-13: 978-1442444959. Hardcover, $17.99.

Find it in your local library!

After a freak accident as a child involving a dead horse that killed his mother and left him epileptic and scarred, Finn Easton measures his life differently from other people – in distance instead of time. Over the course of his junior year, Finn ponders life and his future, falls in love, and takes a memorable road trip with his laid-back prankster best friend Cade Hernandez in this quirky coming-of-age novel about self-discovery.

Sometimes Finn Easton feels like his life isn’t really his own.

A bizarre accident, in which a dead horse tumbled from a knackery truck and plunged from a bridge to the ground below, killed his mother, leaving seven-year-old Finn with epilepsy and some majorly strange-looking scars on his back. He shares his name and scars and epilepsy with the lone survivor of a race of murderous winged aliens who invade earth to consume humans in his father’s wildly popular science-fiction novel, and he lives every day at the whim of floral-scented seizures that occur with very little warning. Plus, he’s a seventeen-year-old virgin.

Finn worries that he can’t control the trajectory of his own life, but he’s determined to try. With his wild and mischievous best friend Cade Hernandez at his side, Finn spends his junior year playing baseball, pulling pranks, and falling madly in love with Julia, the beautiful and mysterious new girl in town. Just as he finally starts to feel like he’s leaving the pages of his father’s book behind, Julia makes a decision that affects them both and launches him right back where he started. One fateful road-trip later, Finn realizes that sometimes life’s unexpected detours lead us to find our own roads to happiness.


I liked 100 Sideways Miles. I didn’t love it. That’s not to say that you won’t – it was nominated for the National Book Award, which is a Really Big Deal and is usually an excellent endorsement. But my feelings are lukewarm.

The good: the writing in 100 Sideways Miles is fantastic, and the non-linear plot filled with little digressions of daily life is compelling and meshes with the overall story. The weirdness of this novel really appealed to me, and I thought it was cleverly executed overall, especially the road-trip twist at the end. There’s a condom-buying scene that absolutely nails the awkwardness of being a hormone-ravaged teenager, and Finn’s contemplations on whether he’s ready to have sex are so funny and sincere that it hurts. I’m interested to read Andrew Smith’s other books. And how gorgeous is that cover?!

The biggest (though not the only) reason I didn’t love this book was the female characters. Let me explain.

First, on the subject of characters, I should say that Finn was deeply obnoxious to me through about the first third of the book. The smarty-pants “I count time in miles” shtick felt empty to me. But he did redeem himself through the second half of the novel when his normal teenage insecurities started to bring him back down to earth with the rest of us, and by the end he felt very real. Cade Hernandez is ridiculous and I couldn’t help but like him, even when I couldn’t stand him.

But to return to the female characters: the more minor of the two is a German exchange student named Monica who is, um, seeing? dating? Cade, the guy who according to Finn makes all females swoon. I honestly have no idea what to call their interactions. She apparently pays Cade to allow her to perform sexual favors for him in a shed by their high school, which I’m not gonna lie, makes NEGATIVE sense.

Like, I am more inclined to believe in the weird people-eating angel-aliens in Finn’s dad’s book than I am to buy that a teenage girl would ever suggest and then happily follow through with this arrangement.

There’s just no way. And then they hang out and go to a party kind of like they’re dating, and Cade misses her (I think?) when she moves back to Germany. Soooo… I really have no idea what to make of any of this, other than that Andrew Smith was trying to live out a high school fantasy through this totally implausible and mildly offensive relationship. Either way, she serves no purpose and has no personality to speak of.

It has been a few days since I finished this book, and as of the moment I type this I have already forgotten the main female character’s name. THAT is the extent to which she is one-dimensional and unchanging. (Okay, looked it up, her name is Julia.) Here’s the sum total of what I know about Julia: she is half black, she’s from Chicago, she is creative, her ex-boyfriend raped her and is currently in prison for it, and Finn is in love with her. Oh, and she drives a Mustang. I didn’t get any feel for her personality and I have no idea what Finn sees in her outside of this sudden overwrought love that came out of nowhere and seems to be driven largely by his desire to have sex with someone. I’m sure she’s a great girl with a life and friends and a personality, but our narrator Finn has filled us in on none of these things.

I went on this tirade in the Red Rising review, and it is even more blatant and frustrating here – rape is NOT a plot device. In 100 Sideways Miles, the assault is mentioned in any meaningful way exactly once to explain away Julia’s sudden arrival to California from Chicago, and then never again. That she is a rape survivor plays into the plot of the novel NOT AT ALL. You could remove this scene and the book would be totally unchanged. There’s just no reason for it to exist.

Victimization is NOT THE ONLY WAY to give a female character depth – not that it gives Julia any depth anyway because she doesn’t seem to be affected by what happened to her. She does not grow or change. Julia’s only real point of existing in this book is for Finn to dream about sleeping with her and then fall hopelessly in love. I know this is crazy, but I felt so bad for this fictional character because her story wasn’t being told, and worse, because her own boyfriend didn’t seem to care enough to tell it.

I liked 100 Sideways Miles. It might sound like I didn’t, but I did. Just be warned: the character development outside of Finn and Cade isn’t just weak, it is non-existent, so read this one for the story and the accurate, occasionally quite funny depiction of dudebro friendship. Recommended for older teens 15+ because of language and sexual themes.

Here's author Andrew Smith discussing 100 Sideways Miles, wherein he covers a bunch of other stuff in the book that I didn't get to:

Too many fantastic quotes in this book not to make one, so stay tuned!

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