“The windows of a camper junked in my yard…”
It’s kind of a fascinating experience to read a book for teens by Tony Abbott, once a prominent figure in my reading life at seven-years-old now twenty years later. Junk Boy is a novel in verse, featuring a damaged and quiet boy. Bobby Lang, or Junk as his classmates call him, lives in a destitute and traumatic situation. His father, a desolate drunk, is absent at best and cruel at worst. For Bobby, life drags along in a miserable but familiar way. That is, until he meets Rachel and takes a front seat to her struggles.
In Other Words
The verse aspect of this book was intriguing. I don’t know how much it worked, though. At times it really did work to pull you in, but at others, you felt somewhat removed. Bobby’s head is also a very uncomfortable place to be for a variety of reasons. I think the most off-putting for me, though, was his complete lack of friends.
There wasn’t even one person that Bobby spoke to (aside from his drunkard father) before Rachel.
Speaking of Rachel
I didn’t like her? Something about Rachel just bugged me and I think it might have been how selfish she was in regards to Bobby. Her introduction was fine, if potentially triggering to some in the LGBTQ+ community (parental abuse). Her story wasn’t terrible at first, though I didn’t much care for the half-baked conversion therapy attempt her mother made with the church. But she never really seemed truly interested in a friendship with Bobby. Rather, it seemed like she was using him.
Bobby, on the other hand, grew infatuated with how she saw him. This basically amounts to the fact that she drew a picture of his face that didn’t depict him in the dark light he saw himself in and his father regularly put him down to. Which, I suppose is fine. We all need someone who sees us in a positive light.
Then there was the ending, which legitimately led me to believe it was heading in the direction of a “bury your gays” trope. I suppose it’s a spoiler to say that, fortunately, this is not the direction the book takes. At the same time, though, the fact that it nearly did bugged me. A lot.
A Shining Moment
I’m not sure if this novel really has one. And by that, the truth is that part of me feels like the mess was cleaned up far too easily. I think the end message is hope. We’re expected to see the possibilities of it all. Everything gets better. But, if I’m being honest, this isn’t a situation I really expect gets better just like that. One wake-up moment isn’t going to make both parents change. And as much as I want to believe it, I just don’t.
Maybe I’m jaded. Perhaps I’m just in a moment of my life where I can’t see good coming from a situation like this. With all that I’ve experienced in the world, this ending just felt contrived. How am I truly supposed to suspend my disbelief here? I can’t.
And while it isn’t a bad book, it’s not a great one, either. I really don’t think the message hits the way it is meant to if it hits at all. This is a story about depressing circumstances that I’m sure many have faced and continue to. And this happy ending? It feels false. We needed a different happy ending.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.