BookBrowse Reviews 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

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100 Sideways Miles

by Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith X
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Finn Easton makes sense of the world through miles, not minutes. Travel with him on the road trip that teaches him to write his own destiny in 100 Sideways Miles.

Sixteen-year-old Finn Easton has a lot to live up to. He's the son of a novelist whose bestselling novel, a controversial science fiction book called The Lazarus Door, features a protagonist also named Finn Easton. Both Finns - the one in real life and the human-eating alien of fiction - have heterochromatic (i.e., two different colored) eyes and distinctive scars on their backs. Is it any wonder that Finn sometimes feels like he's trapped in the pages of his dad's book, unable to shape his own destiny?

What Finn doesn't realize - but readers immediately do - is that he's a pretty singular character. He's got a unique outlook on the world, one that he would probably blame on the fact that his mother was killed by a dead horse falling from a truck on an overpass, in the same accident that left Finn with that scar as well as a tendency toward epileptic seizures that frequently leave him angry and at an uncharacteristic loss for words. An experience like that has got to change a guy's point of view. But Finn also has some other quirks, particularly the ability and inclination to think of time in terms of distance, namely the distance the Earth travels around the sun (about twenty miles per second, if you're counting). And finally, Finn is an endlessly patient best friend to Cade Hernandez, the kind of guy who mounts class pranks of epic proportions, drives parents crazy, and may just be aggravating enough to give a beleaguered teacher an aneurysm.

Finn lives in a strange place, the San Francisquito Canyon in southern California, site of a massive civil engineering failure (see Beyond the Book) that left dozens of people dead in the 1920s. He finds himself thinking about the history of that place all the time, wondering if those doomed power plant workers felt as trapped by circumstances as he does. But Finn is soon distracted by a newcomer to town, Julia Bishop, a girl brave enough to look into his heterochromatic eyes and understand his fears about finding his own story. Over the course of the eventful summer before senior year, a camping trip turns into a prison break-in, a college visit turns into an opportunity for heroism, and Finn's story starts seeming less like someone else's and more like entirely his own.

100 Sideways Miles, with its quirky mix of past and present, physics and history, will remind some readers of Louis Sachar's Holes - except with a lot raunchier language. In previous novels like Winger and Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith has demonstrated - often to hilarious effect - that he totally gets the mind of the adolescent male. Here, as in his previous books, he also shows that for teenage guys, vulnerability and bravado go hand-in-hand, that friendships and father-son relationships don't have to be treacly to be real and vital, and that buying condoms may, in fact, be simultaneously the most embarrassing and hilarious rite of passage that a young man ever has to undertake, at least if Cade Hernandez is involved. At times, Smith's narrative feels off-kilter and disorienting - kind of like one of Finn's seizures - but in the end, it's clear that he's been in complete control all along, as the novel comes full circle in a model of supremely satisfying storytelling.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2014, and has been updated for the October 2015 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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