Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

I was introduced to author Matthew Quick through the movie adaptation of his adult novel, The Silver Linings Playbook. I still haven't read that book, although I've slowly been making my way through his other publications since January: Boy 21; The Good Luck of Right Now; Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock; and now Sorta Like a Rock Star. I was lucky enough to see Quick speak at the NCTE Conference in Boston last fall, and while two of his new YA book were on sale at the conference, it's taken me a bit longer to get a hold of Sorta Like a Rock Star (only one Chapters bookstore in all of Alberta has ever had a copy show up as being in stock - in Edmonton - and I finally just ordered it in from Amazon this week). 

Sorta Like a Rock Star is about seventeen-year-old Amber Appleton, a high school student living with her mom in a big yellow school bus nicknamed Hello Yellow. Their belongings are stuffed into garbage bags and stowed in the space under the bus. Amber's mother is a school bus driver, working four hours a day on the school bus route, and then going out to the bars at night. Her mission? To meet a man who will take in her and her daughter, since her last boyfriend ("A-hole Oliver") kicked them both out of his apartment months ago. Luckily, Amber can take some refuge at Donna and Ricky's house - Donna is a high-power lawyer that Amber emulates (she wants to go to Bryn Mawr like Donna did), and Ricky is her son, who is autistic. Ricky is one of Amber's friends, and together (with three other high school boys), they form "Franks Freak Force Federation," named after Mr. Franks, whose marketing classroom at the high school is a refuge for them.

Amber makes the most of her life, following a daily routine that takes her first to Donna's house to shower and make breakfast, and then to school, and then to either visit the Korean Divas for Christ, to battle Joan of Old at the Methodist Retirement Home, or to take her dog, BBB, to visit Ms. Jenny, the small Italian Greyhound that belongs to Vietnam war vet Private Jackson. 

Amber expresses missing her absent father - Bob - who disappeared from her and her mother's life when she was still a baby. And despite her relentless hope and optimism, she is never far from understanding the devastation of her situation:
I cry a lot when I am alone, probably because I am a chick and all, but maybe because I'm not strong like Donna, and I think about stuff too much - like, for example, sometimes I get this idea that my dad has really been watching over me the past seventeen years sorta like a guardian angel or something, only he's really alive and waiting for me to earn the right to have a dad. and once he sees me doing enough good, he's going to run up behind me and surprise me with a big old fatherly hug, picking me up off the ground and spinning me around like in the damn movies. Sometimes, after I have done something pretty kick-ass, I turn around really quickly, because I sorta believe that he might be there ready to hug me. But he never is. (87)
When Amber's tentative hold on her rocky life flails - her life changed utterly one night - she has to rediscover what hope is, and find a way back to her radical optimism. Quick's book bounces back and forth between funny and sad, placing Amber at the center of this story to conduct readers' emotions as they react to her life, her homelessness, her hope.

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