Stark McClellan (aka Stick) and his older brother Bosten are just your average teen guys in so many ways. They’re obsessed with jacking off, smoking pot, blowing things up, and getting into all kinds of shenanigans.
But there are some things about the brothers that keep them from ever fitting in. Stick is extremely tall and was born with one ear missing. He’s bullied all the time, and Bosten frequently gets himself into trouble defending his brother.
Getting into trouble in the McClellan home is no small potatoes. The boys are forced to adhere to a very strict set of rules dictating their appearances and behaviors or they are beaten bloody and locked away in a spare room with only a cot, a thin sheet, and a bucket. Unfortunately for Stick and Bosten, this is not an uncommon occurrence.
When Bosten’s less-than-tolerant parents find out that he’s gay, Bosten is forced to run away. Stick, incomplete without his older brother, takes off to find him. He may be just about to turn 14, but he’s tall enough to drive, and he certainly can’t handle life at home on his own. Things are almost never easy for Stick, but there’s nothing hard about his decision to chase after his brother.
Throughout most of Andrew Smith’s Stick, Stick and Bosten are the kinds of kids who just can’t catch a freaking break. Nearly everything that can go wrong does, and though there are the occasional kind folks who help Stick out, he understandably has difficulty trusting anyone.
This is not the book to pick up if you want a relaxing night of escapism. It’s in your face, gritty, heartbreaking, and unflinchingly honest. (Well, maybe the end is a bit too tidy, but there’s still more than enough honesty in the book to go around.) Stick and his brother go through a lot of crap and get into a ton of trouble, and Stick narrates their adventures in horrifying detail that is written with a poetic lyricism that beautifully contrasts the starkness of the book.
Fans of The Things a Brother Knows will appreciate this tale of brotherly love and the long, difficult journey that can be necessary to find healing. Similarly, those who enjoyed Brooklyn, Burning are likely to appreciate the comparable tone and intensity of Stick, as well as its handling of life for teens on the streets and LGBTQ kids unable to find acceptance in their homes. Like both of these wonderful books, Stick is utterly uncomfortable and yet completely engrossing.