Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Destroy All Cars Book Review by ChristineMM
Title: Destroy All Cars
Author: Blake Nelson
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Problem Novel, Male main character
Publication: Scholastic, May 2009
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5 “I Like It”
Summary Statement: Unique Character, Engaging Story, Entertaining
James Hoff is the main character, a gifted seventeen year old boy. The story takes place from January to June of his junior year in high school. He likes to write and journal on his laptop more than chat on the phone with friends, and this story is told through journal entries as well as with essays he wrote for his AP English class. He spends a lot of time alone pondering the injustices of the world and hatching ideas for solving the world's problems with extreme measures (like destroying all the cars) and zero population growth.
James is an ultra-environmentalist whose favorite person is Karl Marx. He hates the consumerist mindset and detests things like Americans (including his own parents) owning status symbol cars and teens wearing certain brands of clothing. We learn his views through his ranting essays (which don’t garner good grades or much praise). James wants huge change and wants to play an active role to affect that change. He is of the mindset that he should feel guilty for existing simply because he is human and because humans are wrecking the Earth.
He is a unique person not just due to his opinions but through his actions. He has chosen to eschew typical American teen culture. Wearing thrift shop clothes which he further cuts up to make look worse, despite being from a wealthy family, not wanting a cell phone or the car that his father offers him are just a few small ways that James chooses to act different even though all but a couple of kids at school hate him for being different.
The extreme viewpoints can be take one of three ways by the young readers or adults. First, if you like some of those views (or all) you may be happy that in the book the character is trying to persuade others to see that his way is right. Second if you hate those views you may hate the book for that alone. Or, you may find his rants funny and get a good laugh out of the extremist views and realize his views begin to shift over time. His rants tone down as he realizes that some do-good efforts are not always fixing the problem and that sometimes activism even with good intent is futile.
James is a typical teenage boy with a normal sex drive. The book does include one not-too detailed sex scene in which he loses his virginity. He admits to masturbating but there are no scenes which describe it. He starts to date a bit and comes out of his shell more and more and then the rants begin to subside. The book does have an angry tone in the rants especially in the beginning, and profanity is used (even in the school assignment essays).
I liked that he showed leadership skills by volunteering for a nonprofit organization to try to save some wetlands and a pond from being filled in and turned into a housing development. Also while at a high school party he declines to drink alcohol and stays with a soda instead.
I found the story engaging and I didn’t want to put it down. I liked seeing James change over time as he grew and matured a bit, and as he shifted from a self-isolated ranter to someone whose views calm down the more he becomes more socially active. I found the character of James unique and refreshing, and funny.
The publisher, Scholastic recommends this book for readers in grade 10 and up (age 15 and up). It seems to me the reading level of the book is younger than that, perhaps at a 6th grade level (however the content is more mature then I’d recommend for 6th grade). Due to inconsistency with Scholastic’s assignment of recommended reader ages to content I’m feeling confused about how Scholastic arrives at that determination, so I won’t comment on the appropriateness of the content to the age of the reader.
As an adult I enjoyed the book mostly for the unique voice of the main character. I’m not sure it would be a top pick for my sons to read when they are in 10th grade, that will depend more on which genre of fiction they prefer (so far they prefer the fantasy genre rather than realistic fiction problem novels set in the present day).
As a parent I feel there are some talking points in this book about relationships, dating, casual sex, and premarital sex. A discussion of ‘going too far’ and respecting the wishes of the girl and knowing when to stop pushing the girl would be appropriate. It is a good segue into what date rape is (although that is not a topic in this book).
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program and agreed to review it for the Amazon Vine program.
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