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3.8 6
by Adam Rapp

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An award-winning writer and playwright hits the open road for a searing novel-in-letters about a street kid on a highstakes trek across America.

For a runaway boy who goes by the name "Punkzilla," kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying


An award-winning writer and playwright hits the open road for a searing novel-in-letters about a street kid on a highstakes trek across America.

For a runaway boy who goes by the name "Punkzilla," kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all — from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla’s journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

At 14, pot-smoking, DVD player-stealing Jamie is no angel (though his androgynous good looks get him plenty of attention). He is sent to military school, but soon goes AWOL, spending some rough months in Portland, Ore. (mugging joggers, trying meth), before heading to Memphis by Greyhound bus to visit his gay older brother, Peter, who is dying of cancer. Rapp (Under the Wolf, Under the Dog) tells the story through Jamie's unsent letters, with additional letters from relatives and friends giving more background and context. Jamie, who has ADD, details every step (being taken advantage of sexually, getting jumped, befriending a female-to-male transsexual, losing his virginity) in expletive-filled, stream-of-consciousness narration with insights into seedy roadside America ("I think that as a general rule lonely people give other lonely people money a lot") and his own situation. Whether Jamie will survive his bad luck and make it to Memphis in time gives the story tension, but while Jamie leaves much behind each day on the road, little is found. The teenager's singular voice and observations make for an immersive reading experience. Ages 14-up. (May)

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VOYA - Amanda MacGregor
Fourteen-year-old Jamie, known as "Punkzilla," journeys across the country hoping to get to Tennessee before Peter, his older brother, dies from cancer. Told entirely through brutally honest (and curse-word filled) letters that Jamie writes as he travels, his story reveals what it has been like since he ran away from military school. Jamie tells of his life in Portland, where he lived in a low-income community populated by bizarre characters. He writes to his brother about his drug use, his sexual encounters, and his "job" robbing runners. Although Jamie is no fan of traditional punctuation, he has a real way with words and embellishes his already engaging and strange tales with unusual imagery. As he travels to Tennessee, Jamie meets odd, interesting, and dangerous people. Willing to do almost anything for a free ride, place to sleep, or meal, Jamie often finds himself in bad situations, but he never dwells too long on anything, determined to get to his brother no matter what it takes. It is sometimes difficult to remember that Jamie is only fourteen. He is a heartbreaking mess, and the addition of letters from his family members and friends help to fill in Jamie's complicated history. Although he is self-reliant and keeps up this tough street-punk attitude, it is easy to see how Jamie is just a kid who made some bad choices and fell in with some unsavory people. Jamie's frenetic writing style adds to the already tense, gritty plot, making it difficult to set the novel down. Reviewer: Amanda MacGregor
Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
Jamie gets on a Greyhound bus from Portland to Memphis, hoping to arrive before his brother, Peter, dies of cancer. He begins a letter to Peter and writes about his past and his journey. The novel is told through his letters, with a few letters from others included from time to time. Fourteen-year-old Jamie has run away from a military school and has been living on the streets in Portland, until Peter sends the money for a bus ticket. Jamie's trip takes him through the rougher parts of life and introduces the reader to characters from a wide variety of situations. The characterization, even of minor characters, is strong, and the description makes the events vivid; however, for all the intensity of the plot and the intimacy of the letter format, the narrative feels detached. Perhaps Jamie has separated himself from his hopes for the outcome of his trip, but the lack of emotional attachment makes it difficult at times to continue through the gory details to finish the book. This will appeal, though, to those readers who appreciate an honest look at the grit of life and enjoy a stream of consciousness approach to telling a story. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up–Fourteen-year-old Jamie–street name Punkzilla–is AWOL from military school. He’s already lived hand to mouth in a west coast city, stealing iPods, doing cheap drugs, and getting the occasional joyless hand job. Now he is headed to Memphis where his oldest brother, Peter, a gay playwright, is dying from cancer. His story is told through his letters to Peter as he hitchhikes across the country, written in the backseats of cars, under a tree where a man hanged himself, and ultimately in retrospect when he reaches his journey’s sad end. Along the way he meets the good, the bad, and the skewed, including a girl who gives him his first experience of loving intercourse. Like his brother, punk boy Jamie will never fulfill the expectations of his rigidly conservative father or meet the needs of his ineffectual mother. As in 33 Snowfish (Candlewick, 2003), Rapp pulls no punches in depicting the degrading life of children on the streets. The choice to live free from parents and school comes at a cost–to survive Jamie becomes both exploited and exploiter. But there is more here than the sordid streets. Impulsive and naive as he may be, Jamie is struggling for something that just might come close to integrity. Readers can see the good in him and even in his infuriating parents. In the end he finds shelter with his brother’s lover, who opens the door to the creative life, a more intelligent and focused world-outside-the-box where Jamie just might find what he needs. Exquisitely true in its raw but vulnerable voice, this story is a compulsive read.–Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Rapp mines his Midwestern roots for another well-realized tale of raw teenage woe. Fourteen-year-old Jamie (aka "Punkzilla" due to his love of the music) has gone AWOL from military school and is living in a halfway house in Portland, Ore., when he gets the news that his eldest brother Peter, a gay playwright, is dying of cancer in Memphis. Desperate to see P before he dies, Jamie embarks on a cross-country journey that reads like a contemporary version of On the Road. Along the way, he encounters myriad societal dropouts, many of whom function as his bargain-bin guardian angels. Narrated in an out-of-order, epistolary manner, the tale contains the author's familiar themes of isolation, societal rejection and the invisibility of the rural poor. But his cast of disenfranchised characters is so authentically rendered (dim Bucktooth Jenny talks to her collection of doll heads, kindly transsexual Lewis cooks Jamie a hotplate meal) that fans of his gritty YA fare will be more than happy to be in his company again. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.80(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.80(d)
1300L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

March 4, 2008

Dear P,


I'm finally writing you back. I've been carrying your letter around in my pocket so it's pretty wrinkled but you have good penmanship or cursive or whatever they call it so it's still totally readable. It actually looks like Mom's writing and I never knew that about you.

I've been meaning to write back for like weeks I swear P but every time I started to do it I would get distracted like I'd have some shit to do or I couldn't find a pen or something. I've never been much of a writer anyway even though this one time in seventh grade I was in detention for skipping class and I had to do this five hundred word essay on politeness and after she read my essay the woman who was running detention this substitute teacher everyone called Mrs. Boobjob told me I had an unusual gift. She wound up giving my essay to this English teacher Mr. Douglas-Roberts and he invited me into a special composition class but I got kicked out right away for chirping like a bird during this thing called an automatic writing exercise. I haven't really written anything for a while so I hope this letter doesn't suck too bad.

So I'm on a Greyhound bus and the driver's wearing a hockey mask. It's clear instead of white and you can see his skin all slimy and pressed up against the mask. When I got on he said hello and his voice was clogged and small. I think he has some sort of infection on his face and I can't tell if he's black or Mexican.

I'm wearing this hoodie I found the other day and I wish I had something a little warmer. Man I feel like shit. I have the chills and I should've eaten something but I'll have to wait for the next refueling point which the driver said would be somewhere in Idaho.

P I've been living in Portland for five months and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I probably won't really know for years because that's how it works right? You don't really develop feelings about a place till you've left it. It's like a girl or a dog like that black Lab E brought home after his pony league game that dog Sarge. Remember how Mom accidentally backed over him with the Olds and how you said he made that squealing sound? I miss that dog even though he only lived with us for a summer. Remember how you used to do that trick where you would put extracrunchy peanut butter on the sprinkler in the front yard and he would start licking the peanut butter off and then you would turn on the sprinkler and he wouldn't stop even though the water was shooting everywhere and he would flip his weird spotted tongue around all crazy and then you would do the fake Fifty Cent voice and it would be like Sarge was really busting rhymes or something.

To be honest I've never really had a girlfriend to miss. I've gotten off here and there but I'm basically talking about hand jobs. I don't mean to be weird P but in your letter you said how you wanted the truth about stuff even if it's ugly and trust me it's going to get a little ugly. Uglier than my skittery penmanship if skittery is even a word.

I can still feel the effects of the meth that me and this kid Branson did last night. It was my first time trying it and it made everything taste aluminum so I didn't feel like eating anything and now I'm totally fucking starving but I already said that right? To be honest P I'm so nervous I can practically feel my bones rattling around under my skin.

The bus smells pretty bad like mold and breath and piss from the bathroom and disinfectant they used to try to cover it up and the back of the seat in front of me has a sticker on it that says jobops.com which is somehow making the smells worse. Out my window the sky is so dark it's almost brown like a bunch of German shepherds got stuck up there. I imagine them snarling and baring their yellow teeth at this shit world and all of its disappointments. That's pretty much all I can see the sickly sky and rain streaking slantways across the glass and the Rose Garden shrinking in the distance like a lost toy.

There are only about eight people on board and six of them look like they're sleeping with their eyes open. This man three seats in front of me is snoring so loud it sounds like he's drowning in a birdbath and this old black woman keeps crying into an Easter basket. I don't even know when Easter is. Maybe she just likes carrying around Easter baskets. She probably had something in it that she lost like some money or a picture of her dead pet. She's wearing a pink shower cap with little yellow daisies on it and she's sitting about four rows in front of me and her crying almost sounds like Santa Claus laughter. Even though it's March I keep thinking she's going to turn around and scream "Merry Christmas foolish-ass bitches!" like she's been saving up all her sorrow and hatred and this skanky bus is the only place she can let it out.

Man I wish I had that iPod Fat Larkin gave me. I wound up giving it to Branson. He's the guy I did meth with last night. He was my best friend in Portland and the one I will miss the most.

I stole about fifty iPods for Fat Larkin. Me and this kid Bobby Job were Fat Larkin's iPod thieves. Bobby Job has emotional problems and likes to stick mechanical pencils in cats' anuses especially this one cat called Acrocat who sounded like a dental drill when it meowed. The emaciated thing followed Bobby Job around with pure loyalty because he would feed it Popeye's. Bobby Job wound up getting his face bit up by a Doberman pinscher and got sent to the Yakima juvy home up in Washington.

Meet the Author

Adam Rapp is the acclaimed author of UNDER THE WOLF, UNDER THE DOG, a LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Prize Finalist and winner of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, and 33 SNOWFISH, an American Library Association Best Book for Young adults. He is also an accomplished playwright and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007. He lives in New York City.

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Punkzilla 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Written as a series of long, descriptive letters, PUNKZILLA tells the story of a fourteen-year-old on a cross-country journey to visit his dying older brother. Jamie (Punkzilla) is AWOL from military school. His father, a retired Major, convinced his mother that Buckner Military Academy would straighten out their youngest son. Jamie is the first to admit he was out-of-control. His ADD - combined with meth, pot, and drinking - had turned him into a punk. But Buckner is way more than he can handle with its emphasis on morning drills and athletic competitions; it's just not who he is. As Punkzilla boards a Greyhound bus heading from Portland, Oregon, to Memphis, Tennessee, he begins writing letters in a notebook. The letters are addressed to his twenty-seven-year-old brother now dying of cancer. Through the letters, readers learn about family tensions that began when Peter announced he was gay and then left to pursue a career as an actor and playwright. This left middle son, Edward, and youngest son, Jamie, at home with a demanding father and an emotional mother. A few scattered letters from these other family members help fill in the gaps in Jamie's tale. One colorful letter after another reveals cross-country adventures as Punkzilla first travels by bus and then hitches rides with one disturbing character after another. Some encounters are helpful and kind, while others are downright creepy and dangerous. Through the letters is Punkzilla's attempt to make sense of his past and come to terms with who he has become. He has very little idea about his future other than his determination to reach Memphis before the death of his beloved brother. Author Adam Rapp has created a world where readers will live vicariously through Punkzilla's letters. The world he paints is harsh and unpleasant with tiny hints of hope and kindness. Readers will appreciate the difficult life of the road as they follow Punkzilla from Portland to Memphis. At times I was frustrated with Punkzilla's actions and choices, but I was drawn to him and remained committed to find out if he arrived in time to say goodbye to Peter.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
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