Review: The Last Exit to Normal

It’s true: After 17-year-old Ben’s father announces he’s gay and the family splits apart, Ben does everything he can to tick him off: skip school, smoke pot, skateboard nonstop, get arrested. But he never thinks he’ll end up yanked out of his city life and plunked down into a small Montana town with his dad and Edward, The Boyfriend. As if it’s not painful enough living in a hick town with spiked hair, a skateboard habit, and two dads, he soon realizes something’s not quite right with Billy, the boy next door. He’s hiding a secret about his family, and Ben is determined to uncover it and set things right. In an authentic, unaffected, and mordantly funny voice, Michael Harmon tells the wrenching story of an uprooted and uncomfortable teenaged guy trying to fix the lives around him–while figuring out his own.–From Amazon

Fans of John Green and Jake Wizner will likely enjoy Michael Harmon’s witty male protagonist in The Last Exit to Normal. A troubled boy with a smart mouth, Ben is forced to move to middle of nowhere Montana where he is taken down a few notches by Miss Mae, a strict lady who expects respect and hard work. As Ben begins to shape up and learn the value of honest work, he also reveals his good heart, helping neighbors and saving the life of a local farmer who gets trapped under a tractor in a storm. He learns how to behave like a proper country gentleman, and begins courting Kimberly, who lives with her own strict parents and tough brother only a few houses away. Even as Ben gets his act together, though, he struggles with his Dad’s homosexuality and his mother’s abandonment, often getting himself back in trouble with his fiery outbursts.

Throughout the book, Harmon’s writing is sharp, funny, and touching. He shines a light on every stereotype related to homosexuality and country life, using humor to break the tension. Harmon’s writing reveals the complexity and dignity underlying people of all backgrounds, no matter how they may initially be perceived. Of course, when the truth about people is revealed, not all of it is good. A punk skater city boy becomes a hero, but at the same time, a former pastor is revealed to be a child abuser and another seemingly normal teen’s psychopathic tendencies are discovered. Ben and the community surrounding him show that people can’t be taken at face value. One can always learn more by digging a little deeper.

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