Saturday, June 6, 2009

PUNKZILLA by Adam Rapp

Written as a series of long, descriptive letters, PUNKZILLA tells the story of a fourteen year old on a cross-country journey to visit his dying older brother.

Jamie (Punkzilla) is AWOL from military school. His father a retired Major convinced his mother that Buckner Military Academy would straighten out their youngest son. Jamie is the first to admit he was out-of-control. His ADD combined with meth, pot, and drinking had turned him into a punk. But Buckner is way more than he can handle with its emphasis on morning drills and athletic competitions; it's just not who he is.

As Punkzilla boards a Greyhound bus heading from Portland, Oregon, to Memphis, Tennessee, he begins writing letters in a notebook. The letters are addressed to his twenty-seven year old brother now dying of cancer. Through the letters readers learn about family tensions that began when Peter announced he was gay and then left to pursue a career as an actor and playwright. This left middle son Edward and youngest son Jamie at home with a demanding father and an emotional mother. A few scattered letters from these other family members help fill in the gaps in Jamie's tale.

One colorful letter after another reveals cross-country adventures as Punkzilla first travels by bus and then hitches rides with one disturbing character after another. Some encounters are helpful and kind, while others are downright creepy and dangerous. Through the letters is Punkzilla's attempt to make sense of his past and come to terms with who he has become. He has very little idea about his future other than his determination to reach Memphis before the death of his beloved brother.

Author Adam Rapp has created a world where readers will live vicariously through Punkzilla's letters. The world he paints is harsh and unpleasant with tiny hints of hope and kindness. Readers will appreciate the difficult life of the road as they follow Punkzilla from Portland to Memphis. At times I was frustrated with Punkzilla's actions and choices, but I was drawn to him and remained committed to find out if he arrived in time to say goodbye to Peter.

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