Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life is a highway, as Amy and Roger learn on their Epic Detour (A Review)

Review of Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour - a YA novel by Morgan Matson

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much of this book.  The cover shows a guy and girl holding hands, walking down the road.  I thought that pretty much said it all.  Why read the book?  Obviously, it’s the story of a boy and girl who fall in love on a cross-country road trip.  Right?

Well, only partly.  This is actually a story about two people who are lost.  Amy has retreated far into herself after the recent death of her father.  Her twin brother has been sent away to rehab for his drug addiction and her mother has moved to Connecticut for work and Amy’s been alone for a month while finishing her senior year and waiting for her parents' house to sell.  She has forgotten how to smile and has withdrawn from all of her friendships.  She is a shadow of her former self – buried under a mountain of guilt and grief.

Roger, the son of a family friend, arrives to pick up Amy and drive her mother’s car across the country for her, as Amy refuses to drive after her father’s accident and Roger needs to get to Philadelphia to spend the summer with his own father.  Roger – the seemingly charming, affable traveling companion - is hiding his own hidden pain and has an ulterior motive for accepting the offer to drive Amy to her destination.

For both of them, the trip is a journey of self-exploration.  When they leave California, they are fighting with the inner demons of pain and rejection.  As they drive, and make the irrevocable decision to take a detour from her mother’s very specific traveling route, they are forced to confront their emotions and reevaluate the people they have become.  This is the road trip of self-discovery.  It is really a coming-of-age story.  For the first time, they are defying authority and recognizing the power of free will.  They experience the freedom of making their own decisions and the responsibility of living with the consequences.

While it took me a little while to get into the book – mainly because of personal distractions - once I had the time, I read for hours.  The author of this book added pictures, Roger’s musical playlists to accompany their drive through each state, and commentary from Amy as she created a scrapbook of the journey along the way.  These additions brought the journey to life and as a reader, I really felt that this trip was happening.  I could imagine the author, Matson, traveling the route herself, taking pictures and writing as she drove to make the novel authentic.  And with Amy’s commentary and Roger’s musical selections, it truly was authentic. Their personalities emerged.

Another aspect that made this book special were the characters Amy and Roger met along the way.  Sometimes people come into your life very quickly and leave it just as fast, but they make lasting impressions.  These characters offered Amy pieces of wisdom that helped her to see her world more clearly and with these strangers, she was able to find her voice again.  She was able to face the reality of her father’s death.  I found this realistic.  It is often easier to tell strangers our troubles than it is to talk with the people we love.  They offer an unbiased, nonjudgmental perspective that makes us feel safe and less vulnerable.

Once she has found her words and begins to talk, Amy feels lighter.  The mountain of pain and guilt lessens and eventually, she is even able to tell Roger her darkest secrets, as he confides his own.

This isn’t some cheesy romance novel.  It isn’t just a book about cross-country adventures.  It is actually a story about two people who find themselves again after they’ve lost their way.  And the best part is that even after they’ve reached their destinations, they’ve learned that life will continue to be an unpredictable journey, but now they know they have the strength to face the unexpected.

It is a really sweet story with a great message about life and making it through the tough times.  It makes you think about what “home” really means and how and why we become the people we are, and what we truly want out of life.  Sometimes, it isn't what we think it is.

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