I just read this last night. Until midnight. Good books encourage poor choices in me.
At the beginning of the book, there is a Mary Oliver quote--
Tell me, what is it your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
For Lance "Wildman" who is graduating from Bend, Oregon high school next week, that takes all the following pages to figure things out. Of course, at the end of the book, he is still 18, so maybe he doesn't have it all figured out. But he does at least know he doesn't want to do what everyone else is telling him to or expecting from him.
When things get iffy, Lance repeats his mantras, gathering his courage around him.
You are valedictorian.
You are the first chair trumpet player.
You have a full-ride scholarship.
Miriam Seavers is in love with you.
All the good and important things in his life. Until his '93 Buick Century breaks down in the Wenatchee Wilderness in Washington and all those good and important things amount to nothing. (Side note, I love that he has a '93 Buick. And throughout the book, a car is never "the car," each car has a description and model. Cars are important here.) Lance loves that car and refuses to take the easy way out and junk it as his mother expects him to do. This requires him hanging around in this wilderness for five days as his car is sorted out by several inept mechanics (one of whom is really an artist but thinks he should be a mechanic) In this unexpected world with unexpected situations, he reacts differently than he has before, gaining a reputation vastly different from his mantras. He is a bad boy. Sort of. He still carries his trumpet carefully in his case where ever he goes.
But he is seeing the possibilities in his life as he is stuck in a seedy motel in nowhere, Washington. He falls in with a local crowd, a somewhat depressing crowd of kids who aren't really going anywhere. But there is A Girl, Dakota, who sees things the way Lance does. And there is a guy, Stone, who Lance rescues from a car accident on his first night in town.
(Aren't trumpets such pretty things?!)
Dakota helps him see the possibilities of this one wild and precious life. And somehow, Lance is able to see Stone in a way that the locals cannot see him at all. Toward the end of the book, Stone asks "How can a total stranger understand you better than the people you've known your entire life?" Awesome line! Stone (whose real name is James, but everyone calls him Stone because he smoked weed when he was younger and they think he is so dumb) shows him that it is easy to fall into everyone's expectations for you, but those expectations can be more of a trap you can't escape than anything else.
This is a gritty book, touching alcohol and drug use, fights, hopelessness, teenage pregnancy, sex, and suicide. It isn't a book to give to a child of tender years. But it is a book that is also full of hope, of future potential, of overcoming the rigid expectations you have grown accustomed to.
And it is good. Reading-until-midnight kind of good.
It is easy to forget how much pressure is on teens at this pivotal point in life, and look back on high school graduation as a time of so much potential. But that is just nostalgia. Sure, there are hours, days, when you feel like you are ten feet tall when you are 18. But there are also days, weeks, months when you just wish you knew what to do.
This book deals with all of that--the potential, the uncertainty, and the need to make decisions right now.