Fourteen-year-old Jamie Wyckoff, a.k.a. Punkzilla, is going on a cross-country road trip to visit his cool older brother. Sounds fun, right?
It totally would be, if he weren't coming down from meth… And if he hadn't had a beer bottle smashed over his head… And if the guys who smashed the bottle over his head hadn't stolen all his money… And if the bus hadn't left without him as he lay bleeding in the floor of the men's room… And if the guy who picked him up afterward hadn't been a total perv… And if his brother weren't dying of cancer.
Okay. Yikes. And welcome to Punkzilla, Adam Rapp's 2009 young adult novel that follows Jamie through the occasional up and a whole lot of downs.
Despite—or maybe because of—its utterly depressing subject matter, rampant cursing, and stark portrayal of teenage sexuality, Punkzilla was chosen as a Printz Honor book by the American Library Association. It's a hard but compelling tale, and reading Jamie's letters to his brother P feels a little like getting caught in the spokes of a bicycle wheel—you know, if the bicycle were a teenage runaway with attention deficit disorder and questionable grammar skills.
Now turn up the Ramones and get reading.
Seriously, who hasn't wanted to run away?
Maybe your parents and/or teachers are frequently weak. Maybe you have a perfect sibling who always does everything right, while you do everything wrong. Maybe you know someone who moved away from your boring hometown and is having a much better life now, and you just know that if you could go join them, your life would be better, too. All these things are true for Jamie in Punkzilla.
Here's the thing, though: If you take off when you're a teenager, it's probably not going to work out so well. We're not saying you should hang around your hometown for the rest of your life; we're all for venturing out and exploring the world. But if you bail on everything you've ever known at a young age, smoke a bunch of weed (or—eek—meth), and hitch a ride with whoever will drive you the farthest, the outcome might look a bit like Punkzilla. And it ain't pretty.
So while you might still entertain fantasies of running away from it all after you read Punkzilla, you'll definitely realize the difference between wanting to run away and having to. And under this light, your mom's request that you clean your room just might not seem so terrible.
Rapp's Goodreads Page
If you liked Punkzilla, you might want to check out more of Rapp's novels and plays. Here's what readers are saying.
Road Trip Planner
Want to plan your own (non-hitchhiking) road trip, or just trace Jamie's path? Start here.
BOMB Magazine Interview
Rapp talks to playwright Marsha Norman about, among other things, depression.
Theatre Communications Group Interview
Moving on from mental to physical health, Adam Rapp talks about having intestinal parasites (really).
Words as Music as Words
How do you write novels and plays about music? How do you make music out of words? Here are Rapp's thoughts.
Printz Honor Acceptance Speech
Here's Rapp saying thanks and talking about Punkzilla. You can see some other YA authors' speeches here, too. Yay for speeches.
Humana Festival Interview
Here's Rapp's advice for beginning writers, especially playwrights.
On Losing 25 Grand to Jonathan Safran Foer
Yeah, it happened. Just watch.
But What Does He Look Like?
Rapp looks like a cool dude with a plaid tie, of course.
Just a Boy on the Road
Or just the road, as the case is with this version of the cover.
Keanu and the Kid
What do you think of this artsy cover treatment?