What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Why We Took the Car tells the story of 14-year-old Mike and his classmate Tschick as they take an underage, unsupervised road trip (in a car they've appropriated without its owner's knowledge or permission) through the German countryside. Violence is infrequent but important, although there's not a lot of detail or gore. Sexual incidents are rare but fairly sophisticated and more matter-of-fact than romantic. There's lots of wide-ranging strong language, with "ass," "crap," "s--t," and "piss" being most common. Lots of brand names are mentioned once or twice, without suggesting any particular benefits or superior qualities. Mike's alcoholic mother is frequently depicted drinking or drunk; alcohol is mentioned on a few occasions, and Mike drinks beer a couple of times but doesn't like it. Teens smoke at a party, and Tschick is seen smoking twice.
What's the story?
Left alone for two weeks during the summer after eighth grade, 14-year-old Mike befriends his mysterious classmate Tschick. Against his better judgment and with nothing better to do, Mike agrees to go along with Tschick on a road trip to Romania in a "borrowed" Russian wreck of a car, without a map. Taking back roads to avoid attracting police attention, the boys encounter colorful characters and spectacular scenery. Despite their best efforts to lie low, they can't seem to avoid trouble. When it all comes (literally) crashing to a halt, Mike and Tschick have to face serious consequences. Mike returns to the next school year with a whole new reputation and a newfound ability to endure, and even appreciate, the craziness of his dysfunctional home life.
Is it any good?
WHY WE TOOK THE CAR, by German author Wolfgang Herrndorf, is a funny, intriguing, and absorbing coming-of-age story. Fourteen-year-old hero Mike Klingenberg is likable and relatable, with an authentic voice that rings true. Other characters are colorful and well developed, from the ones, such as Tschick, we come to know well, to the oddballs and good Samaritans met only in passing. But don't be surprised if your favorite character turns out to be the Lada, the old Russian hunk of junk the boys "borrow" to hit the road.
These edgy details, the dark humor, and a narrator who doesn't hate everything shift the focus away from run-of-the-mill teen angst, elevating it to a solid buddy adventure that's more about friendship and finding your place in the world. Firmly rooted in its German setting, yet universal in its themes of growing pains and dysfunctional families, it will broaden kids' horizons as they gain a better understanding of how much we all have in common. Tim Mohr provides a deft, smooth translation from the German that reads as though it were written, with only a slight German accent, in English in the first place.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about feeling alone and isolated, even in the midst of a classroom. Almost everyone feels that way sometimes, so how do you know when someone might need help?
In the original German, the book was called Tschick. Do you think the U.S. title is better or worse? Why would it be so different?
Mike says he went along on the trip because he didn't want to be boring anymore. Have you ever tried to change something about yourself? Were you successful? Why, or why not?