Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his first novel Thomas lays bare the pain, awkwardness and humor at the heart of one teenager's search for identity. Steve York has always lived in the long shadow cast by his too-perfect astronaut father. When his parents divorce just before he begins high school, Steve blames his father for the family's break-up, even though he doesn't know all the facts. Life with "the astronaut" (as Steve insists on calling him) is okay for a while as Steve juggles straight-As with a part-time job and hangs out with a wise-cracking crew of artsy, nonconformist cronies, one of whom, Dub, becomes his first love. But Dub's eventual betrayal causes Steve to flee his father's home and take a dive from scholar to stoner. His last chance for academic redemption lies in writing a 100-page paper for his new guidance counselor, a narrative that becomes the framework for this novel. Thomas, a former high school teacher, nails his setting with dead-on accuracy. The sharp descriptions of cliques, clubs and annoying authority figures will strike a familiar chord. The dialogue is fresh and Steve's intelligent banter and introspective musings never sound wiser than his years. Readers will likely enjoy the quick pace of Steve's journal-style flashbacks; on a deeper level, they will be moved by his emotional stumbles and impressed by his growing maturity. Ages 12-up. (June)
Children's Literature - Tim Whitney
High school senior Steve York is both a National Merit Scholar and a stoner. Unfortunately for him, he is also one English credit short of graduating. To make up the English credit, he accepts an offer from his counselor, Mr. DeMouy, to complete a hundred-page writing assignment on any topic of his choosing. He begins to write about his sophomore and junior years, enabling the reader to see what has caused this National Merit Scholar to become a stoner. His writing also enables Steve himself to see how much he is like his astronaut father whom he resents. It is obvious to see why this funny, realistic, well-written novel was discussed for a Newbery Award, but its graphic description of drug and alcohol abuse and of Steve's first sexual experience with his girlfriend will limit this book to a more mature young adult audience.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up"What happened in Texas?" asks Jeff DeMouy, the San Diego high school counselor trying to reach talented but stoned senior Steve York. The teen's 4.0 GPA has crashed so precipitously that he moves from Houston to live with his mother and her new husband. To fulfill a writing assignment that DeMouy requires for him to graduate, Steve begins to reflect on recent occurrences and his life in general. His first-person narrative flashes back to the years spent with his father, "the astronaut," whothe boy can't bring himself to recallwas either the third or fourth person to walk on the moon. Intelligent and mostly likable, Steve, along with his friends in the dadaist art study group at school, oozes a gently subversive strain of creativity. Through their club, he meets Dub (nee Wanda), with whom he journeys from first kiss to first sex to first betrayal, when Dub abandons him for their creative-writing teacher. The dead-on description of life as a bright underachiever makes the gradually converging stories, past and present, a delightful, challenging read. From the intriguing title to the final page, layers of cynical wit and careful character development accumulate achingly in this beautifully crafted, emotionally charged story. Steve's coming-of-age is not a smooth ballistic parabola, but more a series of explosive changes in relationships. These changes suggest to YA readers that, though complex and difficult, it is this weird willingness to establish interconnectedness that makes being human such a trip. This robust first novel is so hip and cool and strong it hurts.Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA
High-school senior Steve York isn't doing well. The former straight-A student is flunking, and his new friends are dopers. Where did it all go wrong? A counselor steps in and suggests Steve can write something to bring up his failing English grade. So Steve writes his story, and as the action flips between his former life in Texas and the present in California, readers will learn about Steve's cold war with his astronaut father, his dabbling with dadaism, and, most of all, his heavenly-hellish experience with first love. Thomas, a former high-school teacher, has a strong, funny voice, but the first-time novelist needs to learn how to trim a book; what should be left out is as important as what to put in. This is definitely for the YA crowd, not the preteens who often pick up this sort of book. The language is authentic, and a first-time sex scene, though not exactly graphic, has some memorable images ("I resisted the urge to cover the titanium love barometer between my legs. Was it the right size? The right shape? The right color?" ). The dadaist sensibility of the book's title and Chris Raschka's in-sync jacket illustration suit superbly.
Driven by a rigid, controlling father and a broken heart, an overachiever tries drug-induced alienation but can't quite bring it off in this funny, high-energy debut.
Given a choice between summer school and producing a hundred typewritten pages on any subject, high school senior Steve York taps out, a few pages at a time (and in a different typeface from the rest of the narrative), an account of his triumphant, traumatic junior year, from the high of falling in love with Dub, a classmate, to the low of finding her with a teacher late one night. In between, Thomas fills thisand a parallel plotline in which Steve straightens himself out in the course of his final semesterwith subplots and set pieces: the rise and fall of the school's Dadaist club; dates, buying condoms, and fumbling through first sex; the thawing of Steve's relationship with his astronaut father. Readers will take heart from the way Steve grows past his rebellion as they laugh at the plethora of comic situations and sharply set up, well-executed punchlines.