Andrew Smith //
Teenage Road Trip
‘And I knew we shouldn’t get into that car, but at the same time I wanted to say something to her, at least to say thanks, but I couldn’t force anything out of my mouth and I just followed Mitch and Lilly as they led Simon and me toward that idling black convertible.’
At Booktunes at least one of us is in love with the red deserts and mesa’s of New Mexico and Arizona, so when Andrew Smith’ YA novel In the Path of Falling Objects came rolling by I made sure to hitch a ride.
Andrew Smith sets the heroic but terrifying road trip of 16-year-old Jonah and his younger brother Simon in the red and blistering-hot lands of the Southwest.
It’s the early seventies and America is a country in turmoil. Left by their mother, their older brother and lifeline Matt shipped off to fight a war in Vietnam, Jonah and Simon have no choice but to set off on a journey to find their maybe-soon-to-be-released-from-jail father in Arizona. They leave with nothing but ten dollars, a notebook in which Jonah draws the account of their trip, a stack of letters from Matt and Jonah’s promise to Matt to keep his little brother safe.
Lured by the stunningly beautiful girl in the passenger seat, they accept a ride from a man in a 1940 Lincoln Cabriolet: Lilly and Mitch. While the crackling car radio ominously plays Free’s “All Right Now”, Jonah’s gut tells him to run.
And they should’ve, because underneath Mitch’ friendly hippy appearance looms the disturbed spirit of a psychopath and soon Jonah and Simon are trapped in his violent game, with Lilly’s flirting with Jonah driving Mitch to the edge.
In the Path of Falling Objects is Andrew Smith’ second novel. It won him the Children’s Literature Council Award 2010 and the Southwest Book Award 2011. It started out as a short story that gathered dust and cobwebs in an abandoned writing desk for a long time, but for some reason Smith came back to it and rewrote it into this mesmerizing coming-of-age novel. I am glad he found it again, for it turned out to be one of my best reads this year. Partly based on true experiences – he had an older brother who fought in Vietnam – Smith paints us a gruesome picture of both the brutal and spine-chilling road trip and, through Matt’s letters to Jonah, of the Vietnam War. Songs like “American Woman” and “Let It Bleed” take you to the seventies, to war-ridden times filled with confusion and violence.
Smith is a master in sucking you into his protagonist’s head. His skilful writing makes sure that the chaos of the country wrapping around Jonah’s world tighter and tighter, seizes you from the first to the very last page.
In the Path of Falling Objects is a book that will stay with you a long time; violent and alarming, yet at the same time giving you a heart-warming view of what it means to be brothers.
Text by Mina Witteman