When Punkzilla opens, fourteen-year-old Jamie is on a Greyhound bus coming down from doing meth with his buddy Branson. He's not an addict, but he is living a seriously dangerous life—part of the reason his parents sent him away to military school was his penchant for pot, and he's got no problem smoking with people he meets on the road. When he meets Albertina, who uses medical marijuana for her lupus, the line between harmful and helpful becomes questionable—but either way, Jamie never turns down a free blaze.
For Jamie, weed is the first way he tries to escape this life.
Trying to enforce strict rules on your kids (like the Major does) often has the opposite effect. Jamie might not have started doing drugs and stealing if his dad hadn't been such a nightmare.
To say Jamie lacks an editor is an understatement. He has no problem calling girls skeezers, breasts titties, or transgender guys she-men. He doesn't do it to be offensive; he just can't be bothered with political correctness. What he sees, he says, and if you can get past the teen-boy obnoxiousness, he's actually pretty good at describing people. And hey, when you're hitchhiking and sleeping in sketchy trucker motels, you're probably going to bump into some interesting looking characters. Jamie's just calling it like he sees it in Punkzilla.
Jamie's offensive and politically incorrect because he hasn't been taught not to be. After all, the Major is his dad.
Jamie thinks being crass about other people makes him punk, but really it just keeps them at arm's length.
Time for a shocking revelation: Fourteen-year-old boys spend a lot of time thinking about sex. We know, you're stunned. At the beginning of Punkzilla, Jamie's still trying to figure out the meaning of "put my testicles on your breasticles," but at the end—which is, mind you, just a few months later—he's losing his virginity in a motel room. It's a rapid sexual awakening, for sure, but it's also an emotional one. Jamie's prepubescent humor gives way to the belief that he's in love with a girl he just met. Both are misguided, but one's a much more adult kind of misguided.
Jamie would think he loved the first girl he had sex with, no matter who she was. Lots of teenagers think that (and some adults, too).
Jamie takes advantage of Buck Tooth Jenny, and Alan Skymer takes advantage of Jamie. It's worse when an adult does it to a kid, but just because Jamie's paying doesn't mean it's not exploitation.
It's safe to say Jamie has a lot of issues in Punkzilla, but one of the biggest is the fact that people are always mistaking him for a girl. He's a late bloomer, and he worries constantly about the fact that he's fourteen and puberty still hasn't hit—plus, people often think he's a lesbian, which seriously embarrasses him. But out of everyone Jamie meets on the road, it's a transgender man named Lewis who shows him the least shade. Jamie's introduction to gender dysphoria comes with a side order of compassion—not that that makes him any happier about his own looks.
Jamie runs from Sam's mom's car because he doesn't want to get to their house and have them realize he's a boy.
Even though Jamie never says it, his gender ambiguity might be one of the reasons the Major sent him to military school, and one of the reasons the officers picked on him.
Without mortality, Punkzilla would have no story. This is a road trip novel, yes, but what sets the road trip in motion is Jamie's desire to see his brother P one last time before P dies of cancer. The question is how long Jamie himself would have survived the life he was living before hitting the road—crashing in a sketchy flophouse, doing meth, and stealing is its own death sentence. And let's be honest: We're all waiting for Jamie to meet up with a serial killer on the road. So thank goodness for P's partner, Jorge, who agrees to take Jamie in when he finally makes it to Memphis. Like, for real.
If it weren't for P's death, Jamie never would have found a safe home.
All Jamie's actions between Buckner and Memphis are flirtations with death.
Jamie might not be robbing banks or hiding bodies, but he's definitely on the road to a felony since a sketchy dude named Fat Larkin pays him and Branson twenty bucks a pop to knock out joggers and steal their iPods.
Punkzilla raises some important questions about what makes someone a criminal. If your home life is intolerable, and military school is intolerable, and you run away at fourteen, what are you supposed to do to support yourself? You can't even get a job, because you're not old enough. Unfortunately, the readily available options are stealing, panhandling, and sex work, as we see from Jamie and his Portland crew. They've got to eat, after all.
Extraordinary circumstances (for example, homelessness) lead ordinary people to commit crimes.
The Major acts far more terribly than Jamie ever does.
Here's what Punkzilla has to teach us about the Midwest, at least as seen through Jamie's eyes: It's boring. Sure, there are all those state fairs where you can eat fried things on a stick, but road-tripping across Middle America means staring out the window at a whole lot of corn. As Jamie travels from Portland to Memphis, he learns that what's interesting about a place—for better or for worse—is its people. Who ends up where is a matter of circumstance and coincidence; sometimes you find the most interesting characters in the most mundane places.
Jamie grows up in the Midwest, moves to the West Coast, and travels back through the Midwest to end up in the South. The only part of the country not represented in Punkzilla is the East Coast. (Of course, it's all North to Branson—whose name is, incidentally, a town in Missouri.)
Jamie's hustling skills allow him to survive on the road. A more sheltered kid might not have survived the trip—but then again, they probably wouldn't have taken it in the first place.
Oof, the Major. Where do we even start? In Punkzilla, Jamie's dad is a horror show, and his three sons go in radically different directions. P becomes a left-wing gay playwright in Memphis; Jamie becomes a pot-smoking teenage runaway; and Edward sticks around in Cincinnati being exactly who his parents want him to be. Each response has its pros and cons, but one thing's for sure: Jamie and P aren't willing to stick around and watch their dad abuse their mom. However, as Jamie learns when he hits the road, there's all kinds of messed-up families can be (cough, Kent and Marty).
Jamie's punk identity is an extension of his relationship with P, a way in which P has helped make Jamie who he is in a major way.
Jamie and Branson support themselves by pretending to represent April Yon, a kid who, like them, is missing, but who, unlike them, has a concerned family.