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Hit the Road with a Road Trip Book

2012 July 20
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With summer in full swing, July seems like the perfect time for a road trip, doesn’t it? Even if you can’t hit the road right now, you can live vicariously by kicking back with a good book about a road trip.

Road trips are an enduring theme in YA lit. The concept of a road trip really seems to speak to the teen psyche. It’s a physical journey that can represent an emotional journey toward personal growth and change — which is what the teen years are all about, after all. In going from one place to another, the traveler is transformed as they see new sights, meet new people, and rise to whatever challenges they encounter along the way. One who experiences a road trip is no longer the exact same person who started out in the beginning of the trip. By the end of trip, they’ve grown up a little.

A road trip also represents freedom, especially if there are no parents involved. It can be a tantalizing escape. The travelers set the rules, set the route, decide when to start and stop, and when to deviate from the route. In other words, every teen’s dream.

All of that said, let’s face it — the allure of the road trip is often more glamorous than the reality: hours spent in the car with monotonous scenery and conversations that dwindle after the first hour. But hey, it can be fun to read about!

Photo by Emlyn Stokes

After sampling a number of books on this topic, I believe I’ve determined the recipe for a truly excellent road trip story:

  1. An interesting vehicle, preferably with a nickname
  2. A conflicted relationship that will (hopefully) be resolved during the long drive
  3. Self-discovery
  4. An awesome soundtrack

Let’s see how three recently published road trip books stack up…

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Colby and his best friend, Bev, have made a pact: after high school graduation, they’ll go on tour with her band and then head for a carefree jaunt through Europe. So it comes as a shock to Colby when Bev informs him — right at the start of the post-graduation band tour — that she’s going to college in the fall after all. Reeling from this sudden betrayal, Colby decides to carry on with the band tour road trip (since he’s the driver), and must face the challenge of picking up the pieces of his shattered plans.

Interesting vehicle: Colby’s uncle’s beloved turquoise VW bus, aka Melinda

Conflicted relationship: Colby and Bev. Why did she change her mind about their plans? Why didn’t she tell him earlier? What’s he going to do now?

Self-discovery: Plans ruined, Colby has to forge a new path for himself and decide who he is and who he wants to be.

Soundtrack: Bev’s all-girl band, The Disenchantments. They may not be great musicians, but they look the part.

(Nina LaCour’s previous novel, Hold Still, was named a William C. Morris Honor Book in 2010.)

Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham

Alice, Summer, and Tiernan were best friends in middle school and ardent fans of the boy band Level3. But by the end of high school, the girls are practically strangers, and the band has long since broken up. When Alice hears that Level3 is reuniting for a one-night-only concert in Austin, Texas, she sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with her former friends for the road trip of their lives.

Interesting vehicle: A bright green 1978 VW bus, affectionately nicknamed “The Peapod”

Conflicted relationship: Three ex-best friends in one car for 2,000 miles. ‘Nuff said.

Self-discovery: As each of the girls learns something about themselves during the course of their journey, they rediscover each other, too.

Soundtrack: Level3, a real-life band that was fictionalized for the book. Listen to their music at level3theband.com.

In Honor by Jessi Kirby

After Honor’s big brother, Finn, is killed in action in Iraq, Honor is adrift in her grief. She can hardly stand to open the last letter he sent before his death, but when she does, she finds it contains a pair of concert tickets and a joking instruction for her to say hi to their favorite singer for him. Honor interprets this as her brother’s last request, and sets out from Texas to California, determined to make it to the concert. She doesn’t count on Finn’s estranged best friend, Rusty, coming along for the ride.

Interesting vehicle: A black 1967 Impala, called the Pala or “Paula,” depending on who you ask

Conflicted relationship: Honor and Rusty bicker to no end as they work through their grief together — but there are some delicious hints of romantic tension underneath the bickering. Could it be that Rusty sees Honor as more than just Finn’s little sister?

Self-discovery: Honor has depended on her big brother her whole life. On this journey, she’s about to find out what she’s capable of on her own, as well as the best way for her to truly honor her brother’s memory.

Soundtrack: What does one listen to in a classic car? Classic rock, of course! Notably: Carry On My Wayward Son, by Kansas. A Taylor Swift-esque country singer also features prominently in the narrative.

(Jessi Kirby’s debut novel, Moonglass, was nominated for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults in 2011.)

So now that you have a few ideas for your next road trip read … where are you headed?

— Allison Tran, currently reading Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

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