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What's the story?
Recent high-school grad and computer genius Duff Pringle decides to forego college for a job at a Silicon Valley startup. He also decides it will be much more interesting to drive there from his home in Virginia, so he buys a used car and heads west. But only a few hours out his car dies, triggering an improbable series of adventures involving a hitchhiker with dubious ethics, a young musician with a con-artist mom, a pair of crooks, stolen money, a biker bar, and more.
Is it any good?
While Duff's misadventures on his quixotic cross-country journey are entertaining, it is Jeanne DuPrau's ability to crawl inside his head that lifts this above the standard road-trip story. Descriptions of his Desperate Octopus Mind, his way of translating his life into computer code, his excitement over new ideas, and his self-recriminating interior monologues all ring true and will cause a flash of recognition in many readers. DuPrau manages what few authors do: integrating technology seamlessly into the story without showing off or getting it just slightly wrong.
The story, like many road movies, is humorous, improbable, and quirky. None of the characters are quite what they seem: the bad guys not really bad, the good guys not completely good, and no one seems securely comfortable in his or her life or skin. As a nice finishing touch, Duff learns that ultimate lesson that goes with the transition from teen to adult -- that his parents aren't quite as stupid as he thought they were.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.