cover image Teenager


Bud Smith. Vintage, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-31522-4

Smith’s vibrant and violent debut novel (after the collection Double Bird) captures the pain, ebullience, and illusions of a troubled young man’s adolescence. Kody Green, 17, raised in New Jersey foster care, has a wild imagination and dreams of becoming a cowboy. He also has seizures and delusions from a skull injury caused by one of his foster mom’s boyfriends. The best part of his life is his girlfriend Tella Carticelli, though her sexually abusive father has recently forced her to have an abortion after Kody got her pregnant. After learning Tella’s parents are sending her to Rome to break up their relationship, Kody murders them and the couple flees. Driving west in a series of stolen cars, they try to get pregnant again, visit Graceland (it’s disappointingly small), descend into the Grand Canyon, and dodge a series of dim-witted cops. After Kody invents false identities to land them jobs at a Montana ranch, their experience doesn’t quite match his visions of the West. Meanwhile, Tella’s older brother Neil goes AWOL from the Navy to search for her. Though a muddled resolution disappoints, there are plenty of mythic motifs and pithy insights (“Kody thought they looked like any average family did, absolutely unhinged”), and the author evokes the surreal contrasts of the American landscape in smart, jittery prose. Smith makes this a trip worth taking. (May)