Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Last Exit to Normal

A lot of big things have gone down in Ben Campbell’s life over the past three years. His dad came out of the closet, his mom walked out of Ben’s life, and Ben acted out by skipping school, smoking pot and getting arrested. As a result of the latter, Ben’s dad and his boyfriend Edward decide that it would be in Ben’s best interest for the three of them to leave the big city and move to middle-of-nowhere eastern Montana to live with Edward’s mother.

I grew up in the middle of four cornfields just outside a small town in Indiana with a population of less than 1000 people. Fortunately, my small town living experience wasn’t half as backwoods-extreme as what awaits Ben in Rough Butte, Montana (i.e., I never witnessed a freshly gutted deer hanging by its hind legs on my neighbor’s porch). Ben soon discovers that freshly gutted deer are the least of his worries when Edward’s mother, mean ol’ Miss Mae, cracks Ben’s knuckles with a wooden spoon and forces him to sleep in the filthy hot woodshed out back for being disrespectful.

In addition to having to deal with the woes of his new living arrangements, Ben soon discovers that the little boy who lives next door is being horribly abused and no one seems to be able to do anything about it. On top of this, Ben also manages to fall into the bad graces of the town’s teen sociopath! Yikes!

Will a big city skate-punk with spiked hair and two dads ever manage to fit in with the small town locals of Rough Butte? I think that it would be well worth your time to read the book and find out. The author has created an extremely likeable character in Ben Campbell. Ben doesn’t always make great choices and his smart mouth and sarcastic sense of humor are constantly getting him into trouble. However, it is easy to appreciate Ben’s determination to make sense of complicated life situations that are thrown his way and to make things right, even when “what’s right” is a little unclear.

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