Road trips can definitely be a good time. They can also be memorable, if the number of road trip experiences from my lifetime that crowded into my thoughts as I considered this theme are any indication. But life-changing? I guess anything can be life changing under the right circumstances, but I'm pretty sure that the percentage of literary road trips that alter the course of the participants' lives is much higher than that of real life. Well, since 100% of literary road trips are life changing, it's not even a fair contest. Why would an author write about a road trip that was merely a way of getting from, say, your sister's house in Iowa to your friend's wedding in Montana, as one I took in 1996 was.
Here, then, are three YA road trip novels, interspersed with a few of my own road trip memories.
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid has an interesting structure. The story is told from the point of view of four different characters around the country, all of whom encounter a girl named Leila as she drives through their towns on a cross-country road trip. All are strongly affected by their encounter with Leila, and in the fifth section of the book, we finally get inside Leila's head and find out her goal and how much this trip has meant in her life as well.
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson shows a guy and girl holding hands on the cover, so yeah, it's road trip romance. It reminded me of the John Cusack movie from the 1980s, The Sure Thing in that you know from the very start how it's going to end up, but the fun is in getting there with two charming characters.
Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg is not set up to be a romance, since in the first few pages our narrator, Carson meets the stunningly beautiful Aisha--who promptly tells him she's a lesbian. Still, their roadtrip inevitably leads to true (platonic) love and life changing events.
Messed up people go on road trips
Leila doesn't seem messed up, but when you get to the end of the book and find out her story, then you realize that yes, things are super weird in her life, and hitting the road was her response to that. Amy starts her road trip with Roger alienated from her friends and her family, and heart broken over her father's recent death. (Roger has his own hang-ups as well.) And Carson is an emotionally numb guy who hides behind dumb jokes after a lifetime of absentee parenting, while Aisha just got kicked out of her house after coming out. So yes. To be worthy of a road trip, you must be messed up and in need of dealing with the problems you think you're running away from.
On that drive from Iowa to Montana (and on to Oregon, because my sister and brother-in-law were moving out here and couldn't drive their car AND a moving van), we camped one night in Wyoming, outside of Yellowstone. My friend hadn't camped much, if at all, so I was the expert, setting up the tent and getting the camp stove going. As we settled in to sleep, she got nervous about rustling sounds nearby. "Don't worry," I told her, "there aren't any dangerous animals around here. It's probably just a chipmunk or a bird." Since I was the expert, this reassured her, and she promptly fell asleep--just as I realized, I wasn't at home on Mt. Hood, but JUST OUTSIDE OF YELLOWSTONE, where there probably WERE all sorts of predators. So I got to spend the night worrying about the rustling sounds.
You meet interesting people while on road trips.
Let's Get Lost is all about the meeting-of-interesting-people thing. Leila shows up in the lives of people just when they need her brand of courage and adventure. She flirts with an amateur mechanic, picks up a runaway hitchhiker, rescues a kid who's prom night has gone all wrong, and winds up traipsing back and forth across the Canadian border with a girl who's trying to attend a wedding. Amy mainly meets people Roger knows from college, including a girl who gifts her a new wardrobe and the eccentric, wealthy brother of Roger's recently-ex-girlfriend. And when Carson and Aisha set off on a day trip to find out more about Carson's grandfather's desertion of his family decades earlier, they end up traveling half the country, staying on couches and in guest rooms of sweet elderly couples, not-so-judgemental Mormons, and an aging AIDS patient. Me, I pretty much just talk to the person I'm traveling with.
When we were dating, my husband and I were on a camping trip/road trip in our own state. In one small town, we knew there were some mineral hot springs, so we went down to check them out. The other occupant was a long-haul trucker. He has since been immortalized in two family jokes. "It's swim-suit optional, you know," he told us, not quite leering. Well, yes, and one option is to keep the suit on, right? Later, he noticed my husband's lazy eye and barked, "You BLIND in that eye?"
2/3 of all road trips lead through The Loneliest Highway in America, where you will panic about running out of gas, because you had NO IDEA this stretch of Nevada highway even existed. Also, shoe tree.
Amy and Roger really struggle with this one. Carson and Aisha are also taken aback to find themselves seeing signs warning that it's 100 miles until the next gas station.
A teacher friend and I took a road trip to Bryce Canyon years ago, then came back through Tahoe and Sonoma. We were fully prepared to drive the long, lonely Nevada highways, although we joked that you needed a compass to tell which way to head if you'd pulled off the road, since there were no landmarks or landforms to give you a sense of familiarity if you accidentally headed out the wrong way. Also, we saw the shoe tree.
You go on a road trip with one other person, of the opposite sex. If you are both heterosexual, you will fall in love.
This is so obvious. Why else would you go on a road trip?
Well, actually, only one of the books falls firmly into this. Amy and Roger are inevitable, of course. Leila travels alone (rebel!) but does meet back up with her lovelorn mechanic eventually. And Carson and Aisha are not couple material, yet they are definitely male and female, and they definitely cross a divide between acquaintances to people who love each other during the course of their trip. They even have a fall-asleep-holding-hands scene.
In college, I helped drive a friend down to northern California at the start of her school year, since my school started later. On the way back, when it was just her mom and me, the mom asked me if I thought her daughter was gay, because as far as she knew, she hadn't had any boyfriends, and because she was at a women's college. This doesn't sound that disconcerting now, but nineteen year old me was mortified. My other great memory from that trip is her mom telling me when we pulled up at my house, "I won't tell your parents how fast you drove if you don't tell my son how much junk food I ate." Deal!
And of course,
Going on a road trip will change your life.
I can't really tell you too much about this without getting into spoiler territory, but yes, all five of our road-trippers experience epiphanies and growth and all that good stuff.
I almost got kicked in the face by a pony on an Estonian island during a road trip the year we lived in Riga. I stopped feeding it dandelions before it was done eating them. So that's another running joke in the family, that now I DON'T want a pony.
I am glad I read all of these books, and I'm comfortable recommending them to others.
The Porcupine of Truth is the weightiest of the books, dealing as it does with family secrets, public attitudes about homosexuality, religion, race, alcoholism, etc. Carson is a very funny and engaging narrator, and I'd give the book a solid 4 stars.
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour is not as fluffy as it could be, and it's not fluffy in a bad way. Still, it is fluffy. 3 stars.
Let's Get Lost has that interesting structure going for it, and the audacity of a single driver instead of a pair. 4 stars, maybe 3.5.
(I have no idea why the red "save save save" thing keeps happening at the bottom of my posts. Sorry about that.)