Want personalized picks that fit your family?
Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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 ...
For kids who love coming of age stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
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.