14 October 2014

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith


That’s what comes to mind when I reflect on Andrew Smith’s latest, 100 Sideways Miles.

Frequent readers of my blog (all ten of you) will know how much I love Andrew Smith. I loved Grasshopper Jungle and I LOVE LOVE LOVED Winger, so much that its ending still haunts me.

So, naturally, I was excited for this new release, but when it came out I actually saved it to read on my flight to Seattle (in honor of Ryan Dean’s trip to Seattle in Winger.)

Finn Easton is a 16-year-old epileptic living in southern California. He developed epilepsy due to injuries he sustained when a dead horse fell out of the sky and killed his mother. The horse was on its way to a knackery.

Finn’s seizures manifest in an explosion of consciousness, when all the words run out of him and he experiences the universe at a truly primal level. It’s these moments that the novel was, to me, most transcendent. Because even while Finn didn’t have words, he still had his feelings, and his experiences were stirring and poignant.

Like Ryan Dean in Winger and Austin in Grasshopper Jungle, Finn has a beautifully unique way of seeing the world: he has a cosmic perspective, viewing the passage of time instead as the passage of the Earth in its orbit around the sun, at 20 (sideways) miles a second. Somehow, he’s just absolutely perfect. In all his blessed madness, Finn is so breathtakingly real. He can still see the world as a beautiful and mysterious place. He can still see possibilities.

Finn’s best friend is Cade Hernandez, and he’s perfectly rendered as that guy we all know: the one whose personality is so powerful, so magnetic, that the world seems to revolve around him. Finn is the novel’s heart, but Cade is the novel’s funny bone. His antics delighted and astounded me.

Last comes Julia Bishop, Finn’s girlfriend. Smith takes us from Finn’s first smitten instant through the gradual formation of Finn and Julia’s relationship, and captures that first love so perfectly.

I realize I’ve talked almost exclusively about the characters. And that’s okay. The characters are what make this novel so compelling. That’s not to say there isn’t a plot.

Finn’s father is a famous writer, whose most successful book, The Lazarus Door, borrows more elements of Finn’s life than he’s comfortable with: his name, his scar, his eyes (he’s heterocromatic). Finn can’t be sure he’s not just a character his father dreamed up.

Andrew Smith strikes a very deep chord about growing up, because we are all of us living our parents’ stories, until we learn how to break out and write our own endings. And it takes a trip to his college of choice (alongside Cade) to figure that out.

I’ll be frank. Having read Winger, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. But 100 Sideways Miles was heartwarming and tender and, above all, happy. I can’t say how grateful I was for that.

The closest I can come to describing what it felt like to read 100 Sideways Miles is what it was like the first time I listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon all the way through. It was stirring, thrilling, intense, utterly unique, and full of deep, deep truth.

I can’t wait for Smith’s next book, The Alex Crow, which comes out in 2015. Maybe I can score an advanced reader’s copy...don’t know how, but I’m going to try!