Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Greyhound by Steffan Piper

Book description:
12-year-old Sebastien Ranes is taking a trip. He doesn't exactly understand why, but he accepts it. His mother often seems too emotionally detached to care for him. Her latest boyfriend Dick takes cruel pleasure in mimicking the boy’s stuttering, and wants to live his life without "somebody else's kid" getting in the way. So it's no surprise when they pack his bags to send him away. It is a surprise when they send him alone. Ushered from his Stockton, California home, Sebastien must fend for himself and travel two thousand miles across the country to live with his grandmother and sister in Pennsylvania. Along the way, he learns that sometimes caring, guidance and understanding can come from some unlikely people.

Marcus is a man who has been neglected more by society than his family. As a young black ex-con, he is not the epitome of the person most would pick as a chaperone for their child's cross country trip. Yet rather than be held apart by their differences, Marcus and Sebastien are drawn together by the things that make us all alike. As both guide and protector, Marcus imparts his own style of wisdom while showing Sebastien that, despite the darker side of the human condition, people can and do care for one another.

From the moment I started reading Greyhound, I was hooked by the main character, a 12 year old boy about to board a bus across America alone so that his mother's new husband wouldn't have to raise a child that wasn't his own. Sebastian is a wonderful character- naive and sensitive and astonishingly open-minded given his situation. It is so telling that is he surprised every time an adult reacts take-aback by his mother's decision to pack him off to PA on a bus; he apparently expects nothing better.

The characters Sebastian meets along the way are extremely colorful, but not outside the realm of possibility, especially on such a long bus ride. I know some reviewers have taken issue with the series of dramatic events on the journey, but I've known Greyhound bus trips involving a police reception, shootout and subsequent arrest, followed by bus breakdown due to engine fire (and that was just on a 5 hour ride!) In fact, for anyone who has ever ridden Greyhound for anything other than a DC-NY-Boston run, this story will bring a smile and a shudder for its accuracy.

There were some places where the prose was awkward, and some grammar errors that grated (not sure how the editor missed them) but these were niggling irritations that did not detract from the strength of the story. Sebastian is a wonderful character- flawed and vulnerable and oh-so-appealing. This book was an impressive debut effort; I hope we see more from this author.

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