When I used to work as a bookseller, there were a few books that I loved so much that I could sell them like no body’s business. Give me a stack of The Lightning Thief or How I Live Now and just stand back and watch me. I used to joke with my co-workers that if someone snatched me and locked me in a room and said, “You have to sell this book to the next 10 people I send in here, or else,” I would just laugh and say, “Bring it on.” I think Blake Nelson’s upcoming release, Destroy All Cars is one such magic title. I have so many good things to say about it that I bet I could sell this to just about anyone. I am crazy about this novel. Allow me to convince you.
James Hoff likes to rant. A lot. His rants are variations on one central theme: America’s consumerist culture is the root of all evil. James has a lot to say about the big problems facing the planet, specifically America’s role in creating and perpetuating those problems, and he doesn’t bother sugar-coating his strong opinions. He’ll yell at whoever will listen (and everyone who isn’t listening too). He’s ready to blame Global Warming on just about everybody from soccer moms to aging hippies to people in their twenties with tattoos. Basically, what it all comes down to for James is the “lameness of people in general,” their apathy, and their super-self-absorbed, short-sighted lifestyle choices.
Destroy All Cars follows James as he blasts his point of view all over the place. He is particularly fond of incorporating his worldview into his Junior AP English assignments, which are scattered throughout the novel and make for side-splitting reading. Every paper is followed by a few of his teacher’s comments and instructions for revision (too emotional, not supported by facts…) Hilarious. To top everything off, James is kind of distracted by his ex-girlfriend Sadie, a do-gooder type who shares James’s philosophy and has a far more measured and practical approach for creating social change. He’s not sure how he feels about her these days, which is a bit unsettling for James.
After reading Destroy all Cars, I want to read every single other book Blake Nelson has written. If they’re half as clever and entertaining as this one, then I’ll be entirely satisfied. James’s voice is pitch-perfect. It is utterly convincing, sarcastic and in places, pretty endearing. You might find yourself believing in his point of view, but his approach is so not working because it is way over-the-top. I like how Nelson set that tension up. I thought James’s philosophy was right on in places, but I just kept shaking my head at his way-out approach to getting his ideas out there.
This is a book about believing in things, having opinions about big issues, caring a lot but not really knowing how to do anything productive with your ideas. As much as it’s hard to take James seriously some of the time, Destroy All Cars should definitely get people talking about the problems James sees with American culture, and maybe inspire readers to care even half as much as James does. You’ll laugh, and you’ll take a look at your own choices. Oh, and there’s a little romance to round it all out too.
Destroy All Cars is the perfect teen guy book – quirky, hilarious, intelligent and just serious enough to make you feel smarter. Read it the second it comes out in May 2009.
This review is also posted at GuysLitWire.