By Adam Rapp
Place a hold.
Jamie, better known as Punkzilla to the tough street kids he lives with in Portland, is on a mission. He needs to get to his older brother, named P, before he dies. P has an extremely aggressive form of cancer and Jamie hasn’t seen him in a long time – not since Jamie was sent to military school and subsequently went AWOL – not since P came out as gay and moved to Tennessee to live with his partner and write plays.
And so, fourteen-year-old Jamie is on a quest to get from Portland, OR to Memphis, TN as quickly as possible with little money, no friends and even less luck. He starts off on a Greyhound bus but gets beat up in a public restroom during a layover and the bus leaves without him. He starts to hitchhike and meets the very best and worst of humanity along the way. He tries desperately to call his brother, but P’s phone is disconnected. Is he even still alive?
In a series of letters – some sent and some never delivered – the reader learns about Jamie’s family, why he was sent away, what he experienced at boarding school, why he left, and how he lived on the streets of Portland. Along his journey, Jamie encounters physical violence, sexual abuse, mental illness, issues of sexuality and gender identity, deception, theft, drug use and homelessness. Punkzilla’s portrayal of these topics is sometimes disturbing and frequently profane but always open and candid. I loved the depth of each character in Punkzilla. Even if they were minor characters that disappeared after a few pages, they made sense and felt real. The letter-writing format allows the reader to really get into Jamie’s thoughts and emotions as he struggles to understand himself and the world. Because of the violence, sex, language, and heavily emotional themes, I would recommend Punkzilla for high school or older readers.