Forecast clear? Hit the Road and Read!
There are many kinds of road trips; you’ve got your epic cross-country odyssey, your basic weekend escape destination, your communing-with-nature car-camping expedition, your established scenic byway (Route 66, Blue Ridge Parkway, California’s coastal 101…) but when the weather (finally!) takes a turn towards sunny and warm, any and all kinds of travel on our myriad motorways start to call to me, and I love to see the same “hit-the-road” enthusiasm reflected in my reading.
Reading about a road trip gives me that vicarious travel thrill, and sometimes (usually) even inspires me to plan an adventure of my own when I’ve put the book down, even if all I can realistically manage is an afternoon picnic to the other side of town.
Below are three novels that take their road trip credentials seriously while simultaneously delivering believable characters and engaging plots.
Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (2011 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)
Sometimes when you pack up a car and hitthe road, it’s a one-way trip. Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is about the kind of road trip you embark on when you’re really leaving something behind, not just for a brief adventure or a temporary escape, but to actually start over again, geographically and emotionally. Amy has been tasked with getting her mother’s Jeep from southern California to Connecticut, where her mother waits with a new house and a new life for them both. But there’s a small problem; Amy hasn’t driven at all since her father died in a car accident months before, and the very thought of getting behind the wheel sets her on edge.
Enter Roger, son of an old family friend and designated chauffeur, who happens to be game for some minor (and not-so-minor) itinerary adjustments. This makes a seriously satisfying road trip read because of all the quintessential car travel details like snacks, tunes (character-built playlists are included as Amy and Roger take turns queuing up the iPod), and ephemera; snapshots, receipts, ticket stubs, and local interest brochures are included in the “scrapbook” pages at each new chapter. The story itself capitalizes on the premise of a transformational journey to great effect, offering up emotionally resonant plotting alongside some choice road-trip detours.
If you’re ready to take your road-trip reading to next level (or if perhaps you’re waiting for that magical 25th birthday, when the final road barrier is lifted as the wonderful world of car rentals opens up to you), may I recommend this excellently-executed mystery about two friends taking the ultimate post-graduation adventure; a cross-country exploration by bicycle. A road trip in the technical sense that Chris and Win are, in fact, traveling across the country on the nation’s roads, but the stakes are raised here by both the physical endurance test of, y’know, riding a bike 3,000 miles, and by the fallout of a fight which causes the guys to separate before the end of the trip. Then Win falls entirely off the grid, and everyone assumes Chris knows where he is. The FBI gets involved and everything.
Many of the beloved details of car travel must necessarily fall by the proverbial wayside here, as there’s no shuffling of driving or radio duties when everyone’s on their own vehicular transport. But what Shift lacks in classic car-trip points, it more than makes up for in dynamic characterizations and plotting; Chris and Win have a realistic and varied friendship with a lot of history, and they are embarking on a meticulously-planned, much-hyped, physically-taxing trip designed to mark their transition away from high school. Inevitably, the road does not always run smoothly (har har), but the reading flies by.
Told in alternating chapters by three distinct characters, with each character written by one of the authors, this is an easy-reading ride through sunny (and strange) Florida over a weekend. Jesse and Vicks are already friends, and Mel is the new girl at their waffle-joint job that no one’s quite sure of. When Jesse, in an attempt to avoid new realities at home, proposes they drive the nine hours south to Miami to visit Vicks’ recently-relocated-for-college boyfriend, Mel offers to pay for gas, and suddenly the three girls are a team, if a slightly uneasy one, with a mission.
Questionable roadside eating establishments, a massive weather system, and the requisite Florida gators (both stuffed and live) all make appearances, keeping the road travel just this side of misadventure. The three distinct voices help the emotional arcs to keep pace with the miles logged, and it’s fun to read a team effort from authors who have each written very successful novels on their own. Plus, I love a road-trip story that can demonstrate so entertainingly that all the quirky pit-stops, navigational detours, and personal discoveries of a major, multi-week excursion can be equally accessible without crossing state borders, at least with the right attitude.
There are so many great road trip reads out there; I’d love to hear from you in the comments about what you read to get amped up to hit the road!