This is the Part Where You Laugh

Travis plans to spend the summer as follows:
  • Working on his basketball game with his friend, Creature. 
  • Reading excerpts from Creature's novel-in-progress: The Pervert's Guide to Russian Princesses. 
  • Canoeing around the lake, trying to catch a glimpse of the beautiful girl who just moved in. 
  • Not getting into trouble, not going back to juvie... 
  • Searching the homeless camps for his mother, with a jar full of cash to help her get back on her feet. 
From a powerful new voice in YA literature comes an unforgettable account of growing up, making mistakes, and growing out of the shadow of drug abuse.

I recently got back home from the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. While there, I had the privilege of meeting an author new to YA literature. Peter Brown Hoffmeister's first YA novel, This is the Part Where You Laugh, is gritty, heartbreaking, and a testament to close bonds of friendship. Travis is the main focus of the novel, though Natalie and Creature are incredibly important parts of Travis's life, even if Natalie is new to the scene for just the one summer.

In an effort to entertain his ailing grandmother, Travis releases two caiman alligators into the lake and starts a rumour of a lake monster. Of course, he might not have thought things through entirely, as the community notices pets disappearing over the summer months. He's also noticed that his grandpa is smoking a lot of weed and might even be sneaking some of his grandma's painkillers. The underlying tragedy, of course, is Travis's mother, who is missing and addicted to heroin. This part of the story tore my heart when I read one of the very early passages in the book, when Travis is looking back on his childhood:
One night, my mom fell asleep right after she used a tube, and her head went loose and she slumped against the wall. I got up from bed and walked over to her. She still had the big rubber band around her bicep, the tube hanging from her forearm. So I pulled it out. Then I undid her rubber band and sat down on the floor next to her. I set the tube down in front of me and tied the rubber band around my left arm, using my teeth at one end like I'd seem my mom do. Then I picked up the tube.
There is much to love about this book. Travis's tragic life has led him to make some unfortunately violent choices over the last year, and Creature's big mouth leads to a truly devastating incident (no spoilers!) later in the novel. Though Natalie's relationship with Travis is a turning point in his summer and his life, she is not as thoroughly developed in comparison to Creature. The intimate friendship between Travis and Creature really knocks it out of the park, and the ways that they care for one another is heartwarming. Hoffmeister's female characters, with the exception of the grandmother, are rather tragic and a bit less developed overall, which is somewhat disappointing, but not a deal-breaker.

The other bit I enjoyed, but which felt somewhat peripheral and not entirely integrated into the overall narrative, was Creature's stories for his book on Russian princesses. The stories each tell a story about intimacy, sexuality, and possible love between a contemporary unnamed male narrator (or just Creature) and a series of historical Russian princesses. The stories are each entertaining in their own strange way, and do illuminate Creature's character to a certain extent, but do not in my opinion smoothly integrate themselves into the larger story arc.

I really enjoyed reading this book, even though it was emotionally painful at times, and I would definitely recommend it to people who like books by Andrew Smith, Kevin Brooks, or Matt de la Pena. Hoffmeister knows pacing and a solid turn-of-phrase. I definitely Highly Recommend this novel and hope it makes its way into the hands of young male teens all over.

Comments

  1. I was intrigued by the cover when I saw you post you were reading this one. But now it's on hold at the library for me. Thanks, Rob!

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