In a few weeks, I’m going to become one of the counselors for the high school youth group at my church. I’m not at all sure I’m qualified for this position because I swear indiscriminately, consider candy and wine to be the foundation of the food pyramid, and transform into a curmudgeonly old man when asked about cell phones, Facebook, and Justin Bieber. I often feel exhausted when it comes to finding common ground with this age group, which is strange because one of my passions is finding books I think these no longer children/not yet adults will get excited about.
I think part of the problem is that I don’t really know any teenagers anymore, and in a large anonymous group, they can’t help but be irritating (to be fair, I feel the same way about hipsters, hippies, yuppies, dog-lovers, cyclists etc etc when faced with an unknown hoard…). I’m far enough from my own adolescence that I find it both nostalgic and also stupefying that I made the choices I did, and even the youngest siblings of my friends have graduated from college now. My friends with children have, at the very remotest end, tweens, but more commonly, infants and toddlers.
Now there’s an age group I can get behind. Their behaviors might be extreme, but young children are pretty transparent to me, and I love them for all their stickiness and difficulties. Teenagers, though, I’m baffled by completely. How do I talk to them? Why do they think I’m so old when I could swear a second ago I was their age? Who let them have smart phones? What could I possibly have to offer? All I can do is keep reminding myself, don’t panic. If they smell your fear, it’s over.
I needed a book that would remind me of why I loved being a teenager as much as I did. As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth was the perfect choice. Perkins’ young protagonist, Ry, seems ordinary, but as his story unfolds, what makes him special is gently brought to light. This is an adventure story that takes place firmly in reality. There are no high-speed chases, no flying cars, no vampires. He’s just a kid experiencing his first taste of independence; the fortunate part is that we get to see a wonderful new part of him appear in the process.
I kept thinking to myself as I read it, I know this guy. He’s a little forgetful, and sometimes he makes choices that, while not wild and crazy, are just dumb enough to get the story going. He’s sweet and trusting, and the people he chooses to have faith in (strangers!) are good people – flawed adults, but helpful and well-intentioned. I can’t help but love this book because it lives in the world, the one that was especially familiar to me when I was young. Perkins manages to make it completely plausible that Ry would end up without his cell phone in the middle of nowhere after missing a train while his parents are on vacation and his grandfather isn’t answering the phone at home. He has no choice but to make his own way home, and to grow up, and to see that the world is a bigger place than he had ever experienced before. That’s what being a teenager is all about, after all.
Thinking of his mother’s voice made him think of his mother. He thought of how she looked when he said something she thought was funny. At first her face stayed the same, except for her eyes. They would twinkle. Then the shape of her mouth and cheeks would shift almost imperceptibly into her secretly amused expression. It was weird not to know where she was. She didn’t know where he was, either. Both of them sort of thought they did, but in a useless, non-specific way. Like, oh yeah, my needle is right over there. In that haystack.” (p73)
To learn more about Lynne Rae Perkins, go here.