Published by Delacourte
Date Published: September 13, 2011
Jack Catcher's parents are dead—his mom died of sickness and his dad of a broken heart—and he has to get out of Oklahoma, where dust storms have killed everything green, hopeful, or alive. When former classmate Jane and her little brother Tony show up in his yard with plans to steal a dead neighbor's car and make a break for Texas, Jack doesn't need much convincing. But a run-in with one of the era's most notorious gangsters puts a crimp in Jane's plan, and soon the three kids are hitching the rails among hoboes, gangsters, and con men, racing to warn a carnival wrestler turned bank robber of the danger he faces and, in the process, find a new home for themselves. This road trip adventure from the legendary Joe R. Lansdale is a thrilling and colorful ride through Depression-era America.
I remember looking at this ARC and ADORING the title. Seriously, good titles get me every time. And this is a simply marvelous title. The cover was simple but striking. After some mental debate, I picked it up and read the first page (I was trying to decide between this and another book at the time) and I never put it down.
Now, let me back up for a second and explain one vital thing. I am history nerd. 20th century to be precise. From 1900 to 1999, I am utterly intrigued by everything that happened. This book is set during the 1930s. Post World War I disillusionment, Great Depression, Dust Bowl; a decade of general crap for everyone living.
We start off in complete dirt with Jack Catcher (just a fabulous name - don’t you think?) who has been recently orphaned in the middle of the Sahara desert of dust -- Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. If you’ve never studied the 1930s, this book is good place to start. I didn’t just see the dust and dirt and grit, I felt it in my hair, it scraped my eyes and crunched in my teeth. Yes, Lansdale transported me into the Dust Bowl with his fantastic imagery.
Now here’s what I LOVED about this book.
Often times when reading a book or writing its review, I try to think of other YA books that are like it. But here, I couldn’t think of one. True, I don’t read much historical as a rule, but still, to think of none? When I was able to think of something it reminded me of, it was movies. Old movies. It reminded me of Grapes of Wrath (the 1940 Peter Fonda film, not the book - I’ll admit, I’ve never had the courage to try and read that book) and Paper Moon, a 1973 family O’Neal film. If you’ve seen neither, I STRONGLY encourage that you do. Both are excellent.
Mash those two films together and A) you’ll understand the 30s a bit and B) get a good sense of this book.
That being said, this book is an original and does not carry the kind of vibe that is so common in 95% of young adult literature. Feels more like a less-graphic Cormac McCarthy. And that was so refreshing! Looking at the Goodreads reviews and ratings, I feel like people are knocking it for that. That kinda makes me want to smack my head against the wall. Hard.
Seriously. If you want something different, like some history and have a sense for adventure, CHECK THIS BOOK OUT!