This is one of those novels which I’m unsure how to categorize. It takes place during the 1980s, so I initially considered it “historical fiction”. Yet, the goal of the novel is not to define a decade or even just a specific period in the 1980s. I also considered it a coming-of-age story. Yet our protagonist, Sebastien Ranes, is only twelve years old, so he’s hardly “coming of age”. Genre labels aside, Piper wonderfully pens the story of a youngster growing up in the 1980s, forced to grow up a little faster when his mother sticks him on a Greyhound headed east to live with his grandparents.
Publisher: Amazon Encore
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Synopsis: Sebastien Ranes’s mother is no good; she chain smokes cigarettes, smells like a soggy ash tray, and cares more about her pretty dresses and shoes than she does for her own son. Oh, and she is getting remarried to some deadbeat who doesn’t want Sebastien around anymore. So, at the age of 12, Sebastien is placed on a Greyhound bus in California by his mother, and he is headed to live with his grandparents in Pennsylvania. He has to make this three-day trip alone. Just when Sebastien thinks his life will only be filled with disappointment, he meets Marcus, a black, ex-convict who becomes his guide and protector. Along the way, Sebastien learns that while there are some totally appalling creepers out in the world—pedophiles, racists, everyday impatient jerks, there are also some unlikely folks in the world who have guidance and understanding to offer.
I liked Sebastien, but I didn’t sympathize with him as much as I thought I would; he did have such a terrible childhood, after all. I felt like more could have been done to develop his character. I understand he’s a boy of few words (he has a stuttering problem which began shortly after a traumatic event that happened two years before this story takes place) which is why getting into his thoughts is so important. Unfortunately, half the time he seemed to be more concerned with the taste of the air from sitting so close to the bathroom than anything else. Readers finally catch a different side of Sebastien towards the end of the book when he’s two bus stops away from his destination.
I absolutely loved Marcus though. He’s just one cool dude. He’s wise. His life experiences cause him to “be real” with Sebastien. He never sugar coats things. But, there is another side of him that surfaces every now and then that fills Sebastien and the reader with hope that not all things in the world are bad. I enjoyed watching the relationship develop between the two. While there were many serious conversations, there were also a few conversations that made me chuckle.
My favorite by far:
“Well, I guess there’s no harm. Yes, I’m from L.A.” He was leaning in close now. “A place most people call the ghetto.” His voice had dropped to almost a whisper.
“Really?” I replied, wide-eyed. “I once lived in a place with my mom and one of her boyfriends called The Grotto.”
A lot of “Holy Crap!” events occur throughout this book, which helped break up what could have been an otherwise incredibly boring bus trip. That’s not to say these events were just thrown into the book just for the heck of it; I thought they were relevant to the storyline. I just wish these events had been fleshed out a little bit more. In parts of the book when not much is going on, Piper takes the time to draw the reader in with passages that appeal to the senses. But it seems like the same consideration isn’t taken during all the commotion.
Overall, I really did enjoy the book. I appreciated the premise of the story. Having it take place during a three-day bus trip cross-country was pretty neat; surprisingly, a lot can happen in three days (and in such a confined space too). Many of the characters introduced to Sebastien’s life (regardless of how briefly) were heartwarming, ensuring that the 12-year-old got to his destination safe and sound.