Author Kristopher Reisz delivers an edgy and compelling tale in TRIPPING TO SOMEWHERE, his first novel. It's a compelling concoction of urban noir, teen suffering (angst just doesn't do justice to what the girls in this novel have to deal with before and after the road trip), and dark fantasy. There are also some definite sexual interludes that boost it to a level for more adult-oriented young readers. The language can be harsh and vulgar at times as well, which fits the situations and setting, but not necessarily a parent's view of what their son or daughter should be reading.
Harry Potter spawned a large group of malcontents who weren't happy with the fantasy elements when the first book came out, but most of those were gradually won over. Tripping to Somewhere would probably have more of an uphill battle if more parents were aware of it.
Sadly, though, Reisz is solidly in the world of today's teens (except for the whole paranormal aspect, of course). He writes the way many of them think, talk, and act. This is a good representation of their environment and situations.
Weirdness bumps into Gilly and her best friend Sam's life in chapter one. A homeless man talks to them about the Witches' Carnival, a mythic gathering of beings that have the power to make dreams come true. Dissatisfied with their lives, Gilly persuades Sam to run away with her and try to find the Witches' Carnival. Neither of them really believes the story at that point; it's just a reason to get out of town. They've run away from town before, but had no choice about coming back. They ran out of money. Gilly knows a way to correct that this time. Or at least ensure that they're gone longer than a few days.
The book takes off very quickly from that point, with Gilly stealing her policeman father's stash of illegal money. The amount is in the thousands, which guarantees that her dad is going to be royally ticked but also that she has plenty of money to run for a long way. She picks up Sam, whose life is also a mess because her mother is married to a man Sam believes is a sexual predator waiting in the wings. When Sam pointed this out to her mom, her mom took her stepdad's side.
The book becomes something of a road trip as the girls flee Birmingham, Alabama where they live, to track down the band they're looking for. They end up in England. The adventures they have along the way include a lot of drug use and graphic sex, so it's really hard to pigeonhole this book in any one genre. There are so many twists and turns, and revelations of character, even ones you thought you knew, that you can't help just turning pages to see what's going to happen next.
That anticipation of action is where Reisz excels. Although Tripping to Somewhere is almost 400 pages long, you'll be surprised how quickly those 400 pages turn. The author demonstrates good skill at dialogue and scene structure as well. Almost from the beginning he sets a movie spinning inside your head. Within a handful of pages, you know these girls even if you don't know their world entirely.
I'd be hesitant to pass this book on to just any young adult. There are still a few out there who are innocent in a lot of ways, but many of those are also curious about what adult life is like. This book explores that to agree, and shows that teenagers aren't quite ready to take on the responsibility even though so much knowledge of that adult world is thrust on them through circumstance and life.
I'm of mixed emotions about the book. On one hand I really liked the writing and the pacing, while being somewhat dismayed by the story and -- to a degree -- the language. There's not a lot of hope in here, but there are some interesting character developments.
On the other hand, I can't help wondering if the book should be in the young adult market without warning labels the way music CDs are required to do. A lot of parents no longer read their kids' books, and no longer do kids read the books their parents grew up with. That's a shame, because I feel that both sides are missing out. And that way the parents knew where their kids' minds and maturation were.
Reisz is brutally honest in his writing. He should be read. But I'm conflicted as to who should read him. Kids who live in that world will appreciate his integrity, but I feel the need to shield kids who aren't ready to step into that world. Read the book, decide for yourself who should read it among the young adults you know, and compare notes. Both of you may learn something.