It's a testament to Andrew Smith's considerable skills as a writer that reading this book is reminiscent of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude or Slaughterhouse Five or Everything Is Illuminated. The plot is so scrambled that Austin tells you on the very first page that it includes "babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty." And that's basically all you need to know. The plot goes backward, sideways, and forward all at once, and on every page you realize what a genius Smith is to write this book about history and life and the importance of books for clever teens who will appreciate his candor, authenticity, and mastery of language.
As the bibliophile Austin so acutely explains, "you could never get everything in a book," but "good books are always about everything." It's a bold statement, but Smith is clearly up to the task of writing an incredibly good book. Like any other remarkable book, this one is not for everyone, especially younger teens who aren't mature enough to read the word "horny" without breaking into fits of laughter. But mature young readers -- and, for that matter, adults -- should take in Smith's command of a story that smoothly includes references to volcanoes, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the Rolling Stones, BMX bikes, the vice president's sex life, and unstoppable Iowa corn. Prepare to be sad when the book is over, because Smith has written one unforgettable, hilarious, and heartbreaking tale about what makes us human and happy and passionate about life.