Friday, July 15, 2016

Young Adult Fiction: Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach

Since I had picked up and enjoyed Tommy Wallach's We All Looked Up back in October, it was easy to decide to read Thanks for the Trouble. This time however, there would not be an immediate threat to the entire planet. And the only lives that may be in any sort of danger are the ones of the two main characters.

The Situation: Parker Santé is not a model high school student. In fact, on Halloween, where his story begins, he skips school and instead decides to hang out in a hotel where he will people watch, write in his journal, and most likely steal from an unsuspecting tourist. But despite his terrible grades, spotty class attendance, criminal record, and the fact that he doesn't talk, Parker is still applying to college, and the story we are given will serve as his answer to one of the many required essay questions, "What was the single most important experience of your life?" Of course that means the answer will go well over the 500 word count limit (by about 60,000 words or so), but what the admissions review board gets is an incredible story that all takes place during one incredible weekend. And it all starts when he meets Zelda, a silver-haired girl sitting in the hotel lobby.

The Problem: While Zelda may be incredibly pretty, outgoing, self-assure, and pretty free with the ridiculous wad of cash she is carrying around with her, she also has an unbelievable story about herself and who she is. And as soon as she receives an important phone call, she plans to jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge and end her life. Parker isn't sure he can believe her story, especially when she asserts that she is over two centuries old. And he definitely does not want to believe she will kill herself. But over the rest of the Halloween weekend, Zelda and Parker do more than talk about suicide plans, the death of his father, and the reason he can't talk. It is truly an unforgettable weekend that effectively changes the entire direction of Parker's life, and hopefully Zelda's as well.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in present day San Francisco. Parker is a Hispanic high school student still dealing with the loss of his father, and the irrefutable fact that high school ultimately sucks. He hasn't spoken an audible word since the car accident that took his dad, but he manages to communicate by writing in spiral notebooks, and uses sign language with those that understand it. And while Zelda may look like she is around Parker's age, with the exception of the silver hair, she claims to have been born in Germany in the year 1770. She talks and acts like a much older person, and carries around a wad of cash. Also, for whatever reason, she decides to essentially take on Parker as a project - buy him clothes, accompany him to a Halloween party, buy his friends booze and a limo ride - and spend time with him until she receives her phone call. In other words, she is more or less your typical manic pixie dream girl, and Parker falls hard. From the start he is dubious about her story, but her energy and assertiveness keep him going along for the ride. Plus, he wants to do whatever he can to keep her from killing herself. 

My Verdict: I wanted to like this book much more than I did, mostly because I liked Parker so much and enjoyed watching him change as the novel went on. But Zelda's manic pixie dream girl act was just a little too much for me. And Parker, being a teenage boy, totally fell for the whole whimsical act of someone who is possibly delusional, definitely manipulative, and admittedly suicidal. Zelda makes inane but bold assertions that only manic pixie dream girls can get away with making, and she drags the hapless Parker all over San Francisco, altering his life in small ways at first, with new clothes and a night out, and then bigger ways, with an epic fight with his mom and applying to college. I just don't buy it. I also didn't care for how Parker's unique voice seems to fall away around the middle of the novel. But what I do like is how Wallach plays with the idea of Parker being an unreliable narrator. The guy likes to write stories, and is actually quite good at it, which Parker proves at various points in the novel. So who's to say that Zelda isn't another one of his characters, created as part of a story to tell to a college admissions review board.  

Favorite Moment: When Parker realizes his new skinny jeans actually fit Zelda quite well.

Favorite Character: I definitely grew to like Parker after the rough introduction we get of him as a truant and pick-pocket. 

Most Ridiculous Zelda Quote: "There are no bad guys. Only in bad movies." Yeah, she says nonsense like that.

Recommended Reading: I liked We All Looked Up a lot better. Then again, I have a weird interest in stories and movies where the world actually ends, so there's that.    

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