Friday, February 3, 2012

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Sometimes in the middle of winter, you just need to read a sun drenched summer road trip novel and Morgan Matson's delightful debut Amy & Roger's Epic Detour fits the bill perfectly.  The best part, of course, is that in Amy & Roger Matson takes the elements of a classic road trip novel and uses them to create a complex and enjoyable story about grief, loss, healing, friendship, family, and romance.

Amy does not want to go on a cross-country road trip this summer.  But her mother has decided that they're moving to Connecticut to California.  Her twin brother is in North Carolina at camp (AKA rehab) and her mother has already begun her transition to a new life on the East Coast.  But Amy and their car are still on the West Coast and now Mom demands that both of them make their way across the country to start the summer in their new home.

 What's the problem with this situation?  Since her father's sudden death a few months ago, Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel of a car without panicking.  The solution, it turns out, is nineteen-year-old Roger, the son of an old family friend whom Amy supposedly played with as a kid (although she definitely doesn't remember him being this attractive as a seven year old).  Roger also needs to switch coasts for the summer and has agreed to drive the car--and Amy--across the country.  It turns out that Roger has plenty of his own emotional baggage and both of them need a chance to take a detour from their lives.  Soon a simple drive becomes an unforgettable adventure as Amy discovers that getting lost in between California and Connecticut might be exactly what she needs to find her way back home. 

This novel combines several types of stories (including the roadtrip, life after the loss of a loved one, friendship evolving into love, etc) into a lovely debut novel exploring both physical geography of modern middle America and the complicated emotional geography of loss and recovery.  Amy, as our narrator, is intelligent, sarcastic, bitter, and a little bit broken and her narration is both sharply observant and emotionally conflicted.  Roger remains somewhat mysterious at first but slowly develops into a very sympathetic three-dimensional character;  the reader's understanding of Roger shifts as Amy's does, with more and more information revealed through their increasingly close friendship.  The diverse quirky cast of supporting characters add another wonderful layer to the narrative and the descriptions of the places Amy and Roger pass through on their trip are full of unique details that bring their beauty and weirdness to life.  The relationship between Amy and Roger evolves slowly and realistically and their increasingly strong bond becomes as satisfying for the reader to observe as it is for the characters to experience.  The novel also incorporates images from Amy's travel scrapbook and both characters' playlists into the regular textual narrative. 

This refreshing roadtrip of a debut novel would be a great fit for fans of quirky musical romances like David Levithan and Rachel Cohn's Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist or stories about finding love after loss, such as Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere or Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever.

4 1/2 STARS

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