Hidden depths to socially aware road trip.
Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT
No. of pages: 336
Carson Smith is resigned to spending his summer in Billings, Montana, helping his mom take care of his father, a dying alcoholic he doesn’t really know. Then he meets Aisha Stinson, a beautiful girl who has run away from her difficult family, and Pastor John Logan, who’s long held a secret regarding Carson’s grandfather, who disappeared without warning or explanation thirty years before. Together, Carson and Aisha embark on an epic road trip to find the answers that might save Carson’s dad, restore his fragmented family, and discover the “Porcupine of Truth” in all of their lives.
I enjoyed ‘Openly Straight,’ so I picked this one off my shelves soon after, desperate for some more Bill Konigsberg goodness. ‘The Porcupine of Truth’ wasn’t quite what I expected, but still an engaging, brilliant read. There is a lot of wit and Dad jokes in this one which tickled my fancy. All the characters are flawed and are batted around their heads repeatedly with their failings – something I really liked about the tone of the novel.
There was a lot of philosophy of self, death, and God in this. I appreciated the raw honesty of the discussions, loved the points of view, but there were a few moments I was completely over the God stuff… but I understand the need for it to be in the story as our protagonist Carson continually searched for the answer to why?
I also loved Carson’s attitude towards homosexuality – he is faced with this question of acceptance in a variety of forms throughout the novel, and for a heterosexual white teen, he shows grace and maturity beyond his years, and beyond the scope of just about any other character in the novel. It was amazing to read. Juxtaposing this new generation growing up with tolerance and acceptance with that of an older, prejudiced one. And not just on sexuality, but on race, age, and class. It was such a succinct observation on society, as a subtext, that had me cheering.
However, with all the subtext and heavy emotional topics, I did feel it left the book feeling a bit bland. Only a bit. I kinda wanted Carson or Aisha to do something hilariously crazy and zany to balance it out. But this is realistic fiction at its best – a narrative of a person’s life on a journey, figuratively and spiritually, with an undercurrent of politics and social construct. It’s all heavy stuff laced with teen sarcasm and not-so-funny puns.
Carson is lovable in all aspects – a beautiful disaster. He’s socially clumsy and paddling to find some sort of rhythm. Searching for a place to belong. He encapsulates all that teen awkwardness and brings a vulnerable backstory that squeezed my heart.
Aisha had the same inner workings but with a more street-smart exterior. It was true genius to see her friendship with Carson progress.
I laughed plenty, and felt my throat tighten, very near shedding a tear, but not quite. Such a unique voice, though I did find the writing style slightly jarring at times. I don’t know if it was the swearing, the slightly-off jokes, or short abrupt sentences, at times it zapped out the magic to leave you facing the bleakness of it all. Great writing, but not the warm and fuzzy I was looking for.
A few things concerned me, like Carson overlooking death at a time when it should be hitting him the hardest – I only say that because I’ve been there and it’s a hard thing to come to grips with. It felt like he was using the good news of the moment to mask the pain he was going to face. Whether that was the author’s intent or not, it was something that stood out to me.
It’s a great book I’d recommend to those who love contemporaries, and books that leave you thinking…
Overall feeling: cutting and cutesy.
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