Larry and the Meaning of Life


Josh Swensen (otherwise known as Larry) can't seem to get off the couch. His usual overactive imagination and save-the-world mindset have all but vanished, and his best friend Beth is seriously worried.When Beth coaxes Josh into taking a walk at Walden Pond, Josh meets Gus Muldarian, a spiritual guru who convinces him to join his study group as a way to find deeper meaning in life. Josh thinks Gus is a joke. Still, feeling desperate and seeing no way out of his rut, he agrees to try it. What begins as a harmless ...

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Larry and the Meaning of Life

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Josh Swensen (otherwise known as Larry) can't seem to get off the couch. His usual overactive imagination and save-the-world mindset have all but vanished, and his best friend Beth is seriously worried.When Beth coaxes Josh into taking a walk at Walden Pond, Josh meets Gus Muldarian, a spiritual guru who convinces him to join his study group as a way to find deeper meaning in life. Josh thinks Gus is a joke. Still, feeling desperate and seeing no way out of his rut, he agrees to try it. What begins as a harmless Thoreau-esque search for meaning soon turns into Josh's most chaotic and profound adventure yet.

After the success of The Gospel According to Larry and Vote for Larry, Janet Tashjian returns with yet another tour de force, Larry and the Meaning of Life-a book that explores important topics and will keep teens hooked right until the unexpected end.

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Editorial Reviews

The Horn Book on VOTE FOR LARRY

Once again, Tashjian manages to take a fairly unbelievable premise and make it seem more than fairly believable.
VOYA - Joyce Doyle
Josh Swensen, aka Larry, is back. After authoring a phenomena-inducing anti-consumerism Web site, faking his own death, and running for president, Josh is now at a loss for what to do. Back home following a fruitless search for his girlfriend Janine, Josh has transformed from an activist leader to a couch potato. What can get him moving again? Perhaps the utopian teachings of a questionable guru at Josh's hallowed Walden Pond will motivate Josh. He believes that he can successfully face his existential crisis with the help of a few paint-by-numbers, especially when Janine returns. But doubts over the honesty of his teacher and the return of betagold challenge Josh in his quest for the meaning of life. Fans will be excited to pick up this third chance to explore the world and philosophize with Larry. But just as Larry is at a loss for what to do with his life, it seems Tashjian was at a similar loss for what to do with Larry. Larry lovers will still enjoy his wit - footnotes and all - and they will undoubtedly find seeds for thought woven throughout Larry's musings, but the story line moves a bit too slowly toward a disappointing end. Reviewer: Joyce Doyle
School Library Journal

Gr 9-11

After his "pseudocide" in The Gospel According to Larry (2001) and his failed presidential race in Vote for Larry (2004, both Holt), Josh Swenson (aka Larry) returns home to Massachusetts a lost soul. When he discovers his old girlfriend studying with a guru named Gus, he decides to sign up and search for the meaning of life with her. The resulting adventures include the F.B.I., land mines, and the possibility of finding the father he never knew. The plot includes many circumstances that are very coincidental, a timeline that is inexplicable, and loving acts that are far too altruistic, even for Larry. But throughout, Josh/Larry maintains his desire to make a difference in this world, and his drive to do something goes into first gear, especially when he thinks that Walden Pond is going to be blown up. Tashjian's pace is tightly synchronized and it is worth it to trust her. Just when readers wonder how much more disbelief they can suspend, an explanation occurs and the seemingly implausible becomes believable. The serious world problem of land mines buried in over 80 countries and killing more than 70 people a day is addressed in one of Josh/Larry's footnotes. This is, after all, based on a manuscript submitted by Josh to the author, as she explains in her prologue and epilogue. Shining throughout is the character of Josh/Larry himself, a teen who will grab readers' interest, whether or not they have read the first two titles.-Sue Lloyd, Franklin High School Library, Livonia, MI

Kirkus Reviews

Josh Swensen, the "hyperactive, solve-the-world's-problems-by-dinnertime" boy who recreated himself as counterculture hero Larry (The Gospel According to Larry, 2001, etc.), is back for a third installment. Now he's lethargic and depressed, trying to find his place in the world, and readers may get impatient wallowing with him in his angst. But a series of seemingly over-the-top events—a decapitated dog, a lecherous guru, a plot to blow up Thoreau's Walden Pond—shake him up, and readers will discover, along with Josh, that they have been treated to a delicious game orchestrated by Brown theater student Beth precisely to get her friend back on track. But it gets more complicated: What is the game and what is real? Josh's first-person narrative, complete with footnotes, is framed by Tashjian's narrative, herself a character to whom Josh delivers his story. Readers who have read the first two Larry stories will most appreciate this, but new readers will get caught up in a wise and humorous tale and learn something about the meaning of life. (Fiction. 11 & up)

From the Publisher


A Booksense Pick

A Best Book for Young Adults

A New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age

A Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

A Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book

The Horn Book

Once again, Tashjian manages to take a fairly unbelievable premise and make it seem more than fairly believable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805097382
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 9/16/2008
  • Series: Larry Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet Tashjian

Janet Tashjian is the author of acclaimed books for young adults, including The Gospel According to Larry, Vote for Larry, Fault Line, Multiple Choice and My Life as a Book. Disney adapted Tru Confessions into a television movie starring Clara Bryant and Shia LaBeouf. Tashjian studied at the University of Rhode Island and Emerson College. She lives in Needham, Massachusetts, with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

Larry and the Meaning of Life

"Things do not change; we change."

Henry David Thoreau Walden

There is nothing good on television at three o'clock in the morning. I've spent months doing research; I know. Like a media-fueled zombie, I clicked from channel 02 to 378 then back again, night after night. The programming was dreck, but the images and sounds comforted me. I'd been home for a few months after traveling the country by bus to try and find my girlfriend, Janine.1 After eight months on the road, I realized she was history. When I returned home, my stepfather, Peter, gladly removed his treadmill from my old bedroom. My best friend, Beth, was less than an hour away at school--I should've been happy. But this was the most miserable period in my life.
Peter tried not to let me see his growing concern. He slapped me on the back and told me I just needed time to settle in. He threw the stack of woe-is-me letters I'd written from the road into the fireplace, setting off a handful of sparks.
"All kids go through this," he said. "Being rudderless at your age is the most normal thing in the world."
"That's the first time anyone's ever used the n-word to describe me."
"See? There's hope for you yet."
I turned toward the fire, avoiding eye contact during yet another humiliating personal conversation. "I hate to sound like a walking cliché, but I don't know why I'm here. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing with my life."
"Have you tried talking to your mother?"
I told him last time I tried she wasn't there.2
"Nonsense. Probably just a bad day. But maybe this will help. Beth's father called--there's a part-time job at the hardware store if you want it."
I'd already bungled my September start date at Princeton and was scheduled to begin classes in January instead. I knew I needed to work between now and then, but I'd replaced the requisite job search with South Park reruns. Rerun--I was only eighteen, yet my whole life already seemed like one.
"The hardware store sounds great. I'll call him tomorrow." As much as I'd always enjoyed filling the bins with bolts and mixing paint colors, the thought of getting up, showering, and being at the store by 7 A.M. sent me burrowing deeper into the cushions of the couch.
"Once you get to school, you'll be fine. You're always happiest when you've got a project to keep you busy."
"I tried to change the world and failed," I said. "Several times. Just making it through the day is about all I can handle right now."
"I think it's time to talk to a professional."
"A truckload of Prozac couldn't help me deal with how messed up the world is."
"Is that what's bothering you?" Peter asked. "The state of the world?"
"There's conflict on every continent, the poverty rate is increasing, the environment's a wreck, and I'm not supposed to be affected?"
"Maybe you should get involved in solutions instead of sitting on the couch complaining." The touch of anger in his voice reminded me of the old Peter, the workaholic ad exec who'd married my mom.
"I did that, remember? Got my head handed to me on a platter. Spent months writing sermons, spearheading a grassroots campaign for change--nothing."
"You've been through a lot," Peter said. "You're just exhausted."
"I feel like I'm sleepwalking and I'll never wake up."
"I've got to admit I'm worried," he said. "I've never seen you like this." Peter sat with me awhile before going to bed.
It wasn't that long ago my life felt full of purpose.3 MaybePeter was right and this was just a blip on the radar screen, a phase that would end once I entered college. But when I really stopped to analyze it, losing the election or the state of the world wasn't the problem--I was. Being so directionless was new territory for me. I'd always prided myself on knowing what I wanted to do: fight consumerism, run for president, change the world. I'd filled notebooks and blogs with ideas and projects since I could remember. Now? I'd tried to write a few sermons since I'd been home but came up dry. Watching an episode of Family Guy seemed much easier to manage. And since I stopped hearing my mother's voice at Bloomingdale's, I felt more lost than ever. Talking with her--alive as well as dead--had been a beacon for me, a way of continuing to improve myself and grow. My biological father had died before I was born; for some reason lately, that early loss throbbed like a new wound. If he were alive, would things be different? Peter--at least this recent, caring version--was helpful and kind, but even he couldn't jumpstart my malaise.
When I started the www.thegospelaccordingtolarry.comWeb site, some people had called me a guru, but I was the first person to say the term never applied to me. Those long months on the road made me realize I didn't have any answers. And as much as I looked forward to college, it seemed naive to think some professor would take me under his or her wing as a spiritual protégé.
I picked up the remote and clicked--infomercials, Nick at Nite, The Terminator. I sank deeper into the couch, hating myself for choosing the wonderful world of distractions over the difficult job of fixing my life.
Copyright © 2008 by Janet Tashjian

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