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.