Punkzilla by Adam Rapp
Released: May 2009
Publisher: Candlewick Press
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Synopsis: For a runaway boy who goes by the name “Punkzilla,” kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all — from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla’s journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.
I’ve put off writing a review for Punkzilla by Adam Rapp because I’m a little intimidated. Punkzilla was given a Printz Honor medal, which means this book is legit. That shouldn’t matter but it does because people who actually know what they’re talking about hold this book high in esteem. What more can I say about it?
Books like Punkzilla send conservative parents in a book-banning tizzy. It touches on drug use, homosexuality, pedophilia, the struggles of transgendered individuals, sex, mental abuse, and death. It’s hard to believe that all of that exists within 200 pages of a young adult novel. None of it is gratuitous, but I’d be lying if I said parts of this book didn’t make me uncomfortable. Sometimes that’s the point though.
The story of Punkzilla is told through a collection of letters. Most of the time, Punkzilla is writing to his dying brother, but letters from Punkzilla’s family are sprinkled throughout. These letters from Punkzilla’s family present a different side to the story or at least provide a richer reading experience. Throughout his letters, Punkzilla’s voice seems genuine. I mean, if you can get over the fact that few thirteen year olds could write that way stylistically, then it seems genuine. He writes like his mind if going a mile a minute from the meth he did the night before. He’s so honest in his letters about all the horrible things he’s done. But what’s even more interesting is, despite his hooligan tendencies, his innocence shines through when he meets various people on his travels. It’s in these instances the reader catches a glimpse at how vulnerable Punkzilla is, and really it’s kind of heartbreaking.
The only letdown in Adam Rapp’s Punkzilla was the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending. Punkzilla’s decisions left me satisfied. But, I thought it ended rather abruptly, like Rapp ran out of steam.
I really enjoyed this book, but it left me feeling pretty heavy at the end. I guess that’s a sign of a job well done.