The Other Way Around by Sashi Kaufman, March 1, 2014. Carolrhoda Books, 288 pages, Teen.
Sixteen-year old Andrew Kaufman isn't really happy with his life, but isn't really motivated to do anything about it. He's tired of moving and changing schools every 2 or 3 years, tired of not having friends, tired being ignored by his father and treated like a disappointment by his mother, and tired of being told he isn't living up to his potential. But he feels powerless to do anything about it.
Then, the last straw comes on Thanksgiving when instead of going to his grandmother's as expected, his mother tells him they are staying home and his uncle and annoying cousin are coming to their house. After putting up with his cousin's annoying jokes and put-downs, discovering he had wet Andrew's bed sends Andrew over the edge, and he takes off, deciding to take a bus to his grandmother's.
However, when he phones his mom from the bus station to tell her of his plans, he finds out that his grandmother had actually died several days before, and his parents just didn't tell him. Devastated, angry, and confused Andrew doesn't know what to do, but he doesn't want to go home. Then, he meets a group of slightly older "hippie" teens who invite him to join them as they travel around, busking for cash and dumpster diving for food. Along the way he not only learns more about his traveling companions and their "freegan" lifestyle, but he learns about himself and begins to figure out what he does and doesn't want from life.
I enjoyed reading this sometimes funny, sometimes moving, coming-of-age story that is a little different from most. Andrew is probably typical of a lot of high school kids who are all pushed along the academic track to college, whether that's the best fit or not, and set up for under-achievement, if not outright failure. I think teens would find him very relatable as they are all dealing with similar pressures, decisions, and expectations, as well as adults who feel stuck in a rut.
As a mother I wouldn't recommend a kid take off with a bunch of strangers like Andrew did, but it was still an interesting journey to see how first he was just escaping, then learning about an alternative lifestyle. Then, he began to learn more about his traveling companions and finally understood that for some of them, it wasn't a fun adventure or an escape; THIS was their life, not a choice. He begins to appreciate the good things in his life, that he had a home and parents that did care about him, even if they were divorced and his father a little neglectful and his mother a little hard on him. I also liked the comparisons between his adventures and Into The Wild, and how Andrew's perceptions of Chris McCandless's life and death off the grid changed as he read the book a second time while on his own journey.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a coming-of-age story or anyone who fantasizes about running away from their life, and for teens in particular who are dealing with trying to live up to other's expectations and figuring out what they really want to do with their lives. This book has a bit of adventure, romance, finding oneself, and a glimpse into an alternative lifestyle, so should appeal to a fairly broad audience, both male and female.
Other Books By This Author
This appears to be Ms. Kaufman's first novel, though she was a contributing author on a textbook called The ABC's of Ecology, published in 2006, and her second YA novel, Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature is due to be published in 2016.