The Potential Hazards of Hester Day

Mercedes Helnwein, Author . Simon & Schuster $13 (277p) ISBN 978-1-4165-7466-8

A wisecracking misfit finds herself—along with a motley assortment of outcasts—on an impromptu road trip across a bleak America in Helnwein's funny, offbeat debut novel. We first meet sarcastic Hester Day at her high school graduation and instantly sense her disconnect from society. Her mother wants her to go to college, but Hester has other ideas and soon marries Fenton Flaherty, an eccentric she barely knows. The marriage, of course, infuriates Hester's parents, so Hester and Fenton embark on a road trip in Fenton's camper, only to discover her weird 10-year-old cousin, Jethro, has stowed away. As their journey becomes more and more aimless, her “kidnapping” hits the national news, and other wanderers—from a “Jesus freak” hitchhiker bearing a cross “big enough to nail a buffalo to,” to Jack, a fellow drifter for whom Hester develops feelings (Hester and Fenton, meanwhile, thrive on bickering, and his one amorous advance isn't consummated)—breeze in and out of the picture. Although Hester might be an exaggerated portrait of disaffected youth, her soul-searching adventure is reliably entertaining and her obligatory final-page epiphany feels just right. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 11/05/2007
Release date: 02/01/2008
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4165-6432-4
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