by Bill Konigsburg
First sentence: “The Billings Zoo has no animals.”
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Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.
Carson Smith has drawn the short stick for the summer: he’s stuck in Billings, Montana with his mom. They’ve moved back to take care of his dying, alcoholic father whom Carson hasn’t seen in 14 years. It’s not exactly the Ideal Summer at all.
Then Carson, completely by chance, meets Aisha and strikes up a friendship. No romance here: Aisha’s a lesbian who has been kicked out of the house by her super religious dad. She’s having a winner of a summer too, so she moves in with Carson and his parents. Everything is shaping out to be a complete Win until Carson and Aisha start nosing through boxes in the basement and uncover some clues to Carson’s grandfather’s disappearance back in the early 1980s. One thing leads to another and soon Carson and Aisha are on a road trip to find Carson’s grandfather.
This was a hard book for me to read, as a religious person. Mostly because Carson and Aisha are incredibly hostile — for good reason, I think — toward organized religion. I can understand why: too often people hide behind Religion, using it to justify their prejudices and to promote hate. But not everyone does, and I was made uncomfortable by the broad strokes: all people who are “religious” are bigots.
Thankfully, there is growth with these characters, and I appreciated that. I appreciated that, overall, Konigsberg treated everything thoughtfully and carefeull. Which meant that no one was truly black and white and that both Carson and Aisha learned things along the way.
There’s a lot to think about in this book, and I do think it’s a story, with all its broken people and hurtful relationships, that needs to be told. I just wish religion and religious people came off better.
A quick aside: Konigsberg stopped by the store as part of his Porcupines for Trevor tour. While it wasn’t super well-attended, we got a small crowd and we sat in a circle talking about religion and the LGBTQ community. It was a very interesting (and civil) discussion, one that I was glad we had.
Also: we took a selfie. He was very kind, and very, very tired.