Ry is on the train to summer camp when he reads the final letter from the camp director. The letter reads, in its entirety:
Do not come to camp. There is no camp. Camp is a concept that no longer exists in a real place or time.
We are so sorry. The Summer ArcheoTrails Program will not take place. A statistically improbable number of things have gone wrong and the camel’s back is broken. Your money will be fully refunded as soon as I sell my car and remortgage my house.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, blahblahblah. We hope to regroup and put together a bombproof program by next summer. Live and learn!
With deepest apologies, believe me,
Wally Osfeld (pgs 6-7. All quotes taken from ARC and are subject to change.)
This is not the last statistically improbable thing that will happen to Ry during his summer vacation – not by a long shot. Who ever would have guessed, for example, that shortly after reading this strange letter Ry would hop off the stopped train – just for a moment – to try to get cell phone reception so he can call his family, only to have the train suddenly pull away and leave him stranded in the hills with not so much as a house in sight? By the time Ry reaches civilization he has only the travel cash from his pocket, a black eye, a pocketknife, a single shoe, and a useless cell phone with very little charge and no reception. Not that the cell phone would have done him much good – his parents, who are on a vacation somewhere in the Caribbean, have lost their cell phone to a curious monkey. And his grandpa, who is house-sitting and taking care of Ry’s dogs, has hit his head during a fall and developed short-term amnesia. No one in the world knows that Ry is wandering by himself – and it might not seem like it at this moment in time, but a totally unplanned, detour-filled, almost-catastrophic road trip might be exactly what Ry needed this summer.
Some books have a charm that is just so easy. It takes a light hand and a keen sense of humor to make the reader stay invested and, well, somewhere within the realm of belief, in a book where literally everything goes wrong. And I do mean everything – Ry is in the above situation within 30 pages, and things don’t get any simpler for him. Luckily, Lynne Rae Perkins has both of those qualities in spades. Despite Ry tripping from one unbelievable situation to the next, the wry, conversational style of the narrative keeps the verging-on-silly plot from running off the rails. A notable example (and please know that I am doing my very best not to make this review just a string of random quotations – it’s a serious temptation with a book that’s so expertly narrated!): “Ry looked at his feet and legs in one of those little shoe mirrors that sat on the floor. The shoes were a metaphor for the decline of western civilization: crappy and glitzy and barely useful, but pretty comfortable. This is the narrator’s opinion. Ry didn’t think that thought specifically, but he felt as dispirited as if he had.” (Pg. 68. All quotes taken from ARC and are subject to change.) You want to crawl inside the narrator’s head right now, don’t you? I sure do.
And in the end, no matter what the plot threw my way, the absurdly delightful characters that people this novel could hold my attention in any situation. Ry is funny, sweet, and a little bit dumbfounded – as anyone would be in the situations he finds himself in. He is charming from the very beginning, and is capable of keeping his affable nature even in the worst of circumstances. And then he finally stumbles into a town, finds a stranger, and tries his best to act like this is all something that happens to ordinary people. But in what might be the single stroke of good luck that finds Ry in his journey, this total stranger is Del.
Oh, Del Del wonderful Del! Del lives, breathes, and thrives on people in unusual situations who are in need of his help. Especially if that help involves unexpected road trips, fixing things in unusual ways, danger, or unlikely odds – and Ry’s story will have all of these. Del’s the kind of guy who listens to Ry’s improbable story and says, well, since you can’t get a hold of your family I guess I’ll drive you from Montana to Wisconsin. And when that doesn’t work out as they planned, he says well, I guess I’ll just take you down to the Caribbean to find your parents. And when they end up in a car driven by a man with very little eyesight and no feeling below his knees, or in a small plane that requires some midair repairs over the ocean, Ry is able to stave off panic by looking at Del, who “seemed, as he was in any situation that required physical strength and agility plus mechanical aptitude and that also included unlikely odds, perfectly at ease” (pg. 259, All quotes taken from ARC and are subject to change.) Del is, without question, my new favorite grown-up in a YA novel, and he is the perfect companion for Ry’s bizarre summer. It is Del’s reassuring presence that makes the novel still feel comfortable and safe enough to be truly funny, even in situations that should, by all rights, be terrifying.
Now, Ry and Del’s adventure is interwoven with a few others – Ry’s parents, his grandpa, and even his dogs each have their own tale to tell. And in Perkins’ hands, their tales are also funny and sweet and worth reading. In any other context, I think I would have been delighted by these little sidestories. But I fell so completely in love with Ry and Del that I got easily annoyed by anything that took me away from them. Please don’t think of this as a genuine quibble with the book – when I make myself think of it in an objective way and not as a crazy reader with an agenda of her own, I think these detours were the best way to tell the stories of Ry’s family, and those stories are important to Ry’s journey and do a nice job of further illuminating the themes of luck and chance that the book centers around. And I think many readers will love their addition, especially the story of the dogs, which is told in short illustrated episodes.
I have not yet read anything else by Lynne Rae Perkins. I feel like an idiot now. Are her other books this wise and wonderful? Somebody get me a copy of Criss Cross, stat!
Lynne Rae Perkins
Review copy provided by the publisher.