Sixteen year old Ry is lost. He got off a train bound for summer archeological camp and it left without him. Now he is in the middle of Montana, without his backpack, without cell phone coverage. His parents are sailing somewhere in the Caribbean, his grandfather is dog-sitting for them in their new house in Wisconsin, and and even the dogs his grandfather is supposed to be taking care of are lost. Ry is alone.
Then he meets Del, a quirky and kind man who suggests they go find Ry's parents. "I don't even know exactly where they are," says Ry. "It would be impossible." "Uh-oh," says Beth (a friend of Del's.) "Those are magic words to Del."
What seems impossible is, in fact, not. This is at the heart of Lynne Rae Perkin's As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth. Ry embarks on a wild journey that takes him by train, car, plane, boat and, yes, feet to find his family. He is accompanied by Del (or more accurately, unflappable Del is accompanied by Ry) and along the way they meet fascinating characters, see fantastic landscapes and have adventure after adventure after adventure.
Lynne Rae Perkins has created a unique kind of adventure, one that is strange yet sweet. The situations that she creates - hitchhiking with a speed demon who informs Ry and Del halfway into their car ride that his legs are paralyzed, for instance - are compelling. They are entertaining and easy to read. But it is her attention to detail that catapults her writing into a lyrical and poignant stratosphere. Here is what she writes when Ry and Del finally arrive at Ry's house, in search of his grandfather: "The smell turned out to be coming from the coffee pot. A thick, tarry substance in the final stages of coffee death was enameled to the bottom. The aroma was no longer of anything you would want to put inside your body. Ry turned and showed Del the pot. "You want some?" "No thanks," said Del. "I think I'll pass." It is clear from this brilliant passage about old coffee that Ry's grandfather has not been in the house for a while. Something has happened to him.
But it is Lynne Rae Perkin's amazing ability to write in a way that keeps the reader exactly in the present that is utterly breathtaking. Told in an omniscient third person voice, As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth follows every thought that Ry has. And he has a lot of them. He is constantly talking to himself, reassessing his situation, finding a silver lining. And we are a part of it all, moment by moment. We experience Ry growing and changing in minute and detailed ways. The narrator changes points of view too. So sometimes we feel the story from the perspective of Del, sometimes from Ry's parents, his grandfather, or even his dogs. This, coupled with Lynne Rae Perkin's kind, compassionate and funny characters, results in a deep investment in, and connection to, the story.
So, yes. What seems impossible is, in fact, not. But Ry experiences so much more than successfully journeying from Montana to Wisconsin to the Caribbean. He experiences journeying from being alone to being connected. This is what he learns - and we learn - is possible. Detail by detail and moment by moment, Ry discovers the deep importance of being connected to other people, to himself, and to the adventures that life offers.
Yes. Ry gets there. By train, car, plane, boat and feet. But also, truly, he gets there by head, heart, and whole body - by connecting with Del, himself and ultimately the world around him.
This review was originally published in August 2010, and has been updated for the April 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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