Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Punkzilla Book Poster Image
Grim account of a runaway teen is intense and disturbing.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Jamie describes his theft methods in detail. He and a friend pretend to collect money for a kidnapping victim but keep it for themselves. Jamie shoplifts and steals a boy's backpack. Jamie's father tells his mother she has "sausage thighs" and posts her weight on the refrigerator. Jamie's squad leader bullies him and calls him the "dumbest of the dozen." The track coach tells Jamie he has a "vagina" when he stops to rest and screams "Nothing but vadge!" at him. On the positive side, people help Jamie out, giving him rides and money. 


A boy Jamie knows sticks mechanical pencils in cats' anuses. With little remorse, Jamie hits joggers over the head to knock them out so he can steal their iPods. Jamie says he sometimes feels like putting his head through a window so "the jagged pieces tear my neck apart." Jamie wakes up with another boy's hand down his pants "like he was intending to finger me in my sleep" (the boy thought he was a girl). An older man tries to entice boys into his room; he gives one boy wine and when the boy falls asleep, stands over him and masturbates. Jamie gets jumped in a bus station restroom; they break a forty of Budweiser over his head and steal all his money and gear. An older woman slaps Jamie across the face and he punches her in the chest.


Jamie describes getting a "hand job" from a prostitute on a couple different occasions. Jamie hears that taking black market Viagra "makes sex way more intense, like you feel like you grow fangs." A man who gives Jamie a ride gets a hotel room and gives him oral sex. Afterward Jamie is "mad disgusted" and wants to smash the man in the head with his radio. He later calls the experience the "d--k-sucking saga." One of the homeless boys charges other boys a quarter to see naked pictures of his mother. Jamie gets stoned and has safe sex with a fellow teenager (described in some detail).


Jamie swears casually and constantly. The language include "s--t," "f--k," "motherf-ker," "piss," "t-tties," and "faggot-ass."  He calls women "skeezers;" his friend calls a junior-high girl named "Easy Elise" a "ho" and "skanky-ass juice box." Jamie says one of the military school cadets is associated with a group that screams, "Out with the n--gers." Jamie calls God a "f--king d--k" for letting his brother get cancer and dismisses a woman as a "f--king skanky bitch."


Jamie steals iPods and abuses Actifed. There are several mentions of name brands, including drugs, alcohol, soda, electronics, shoes, and video games.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Jamie is a drug user. He smokes pot and wonders if that messed up his hormones. He describes the after-effects of using meth. He gets drunk, abuses Actifed, and smokes clove cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this contemporary fiction novel offers an intense, graphic portrayal of a runaway teen who abuses drugs and steals with little remorse. Jamie's first-person voice is honest and raw, with lots of cursing. He engages in many risky behaviors, including hitchhiking. The sex and violence are graphic and disturbing at times.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 15-year-old Written byBrittany Skye January 21, 2010

Perfect for the deep minded teen

It is quite an amazing trip to say the least! This book made me feel more human, it showed me the ideas of lower income places and to get into the mind of this... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCire Colon-Smith October 31, 2019


So as a black man of America, I say this book has no racism which is nice but it does have drugs and stuff but it’s fine if you’re over the age of 1. In the end... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bykalealynn January 3, 2012

A Truthful Masterpiece

overall, this is a good book. when i first read it, i thought the book had too much wearing, and sex. but after a while, you begin to put yourself if jamies pos... Continue reading

What's the story?

Jamie, dubbed "Punkzilla" for his love of punk music, is a "pretty" 14-year-old boy who looks 12. A runaway from military school, he hops a bus to see his gay older brother before he dies of cancer. Along the way, he writes letters to his brother about his experiences on the road, and what led him to go AWOL. After he's jumped in a restroom and robbed of all his money, he's forced to rely on a string of odd strangers to help him get to Memphis in time.

Is it any good?

Most teens will be captivated by the book's main character and find much to think about and discuss. In heart-wrenchingly honest, stream-of-consciousness letters, Jamie exposes his tough-but-innocent psyche to his brother, and on one occasion, to his mother (which, sadly, he never mails). Jamie's gritty voice is so authentic, it's easy to see how he manages to charm strangers despite a host of issues, including ADD and drug use. Seen through his eyes, even the most minor (and bizarre) secondary characters populate a fleshed-out world of brief alliances and constant betrayals.

Though the novel ends somewhat hopefully, this doesn't feel like the coming-of-age story that one expects because Jamie never really grows from his experiences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Jamie's use of letters to tell his story. Would the novel be different if Jamie wrote emails or instant messages instead?

  • How does this old-fashioned means of communication meld with its very contemporary 2008 setting?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming of age stories

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