Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review of Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

Gray, Keith. Ostrich Boys. Random House, 2010.

What is it about road trips that is so seductive and compelling? Simply steering my car toward the freeway that will carry me out of town makes my heart beat faster, even if I'm just headed to the San Fernando Valley to visit one of the library branches there. And if I keep going on one of my semi-annual 400-mile trips to visit rellies in Sacramento? Woohoo! Queen of the Road, baby!

Ostrich Boys has a good bit of that adrenalin-fueled excitement, made even spicier by the fact that Blake, Sim, and Kenny are heading out illicitly. In fact, the road trips taken by teens in most books are either accidental (as in Ry's journey in Lynne Rae Perkins' As Easy As Falling Off The Face of the Earth) or a way of running away from something (as in Rachel Ward's Numbers) or to something (Siobhan Dowd's Solace of the Road). Generally, the road trips are not what any adult would consider a Good Idea - but that makes them all the more compelling.

Sensible, stocky Blake is our narrator, and he makes it seem an inevitable result of the trio's true friendship with and understanding of their friend Ross that they steal his cremated ashes (not long after he has been killed by a car while riding his bike) and abscond with them to Ross, Scotland. As it turns out, they didn't understand Ross - or each other, or themselves - as well as they thought, but after a whirlwind trip full of missteps, bonding, quarreling, girls, and bungee jumping, things are much more clear. Not necessarily better, just more clear.

The nature and mystery of male friendship is slowly revealed between madcap bouts of misadventure, and somehow it all feels realistic. Well - there's a wild ride on stolen motorscooters that has more than a touch of Teen Movie about it, but still, the scene is both funny and ludicrous enough to work.

Girls are the ones who know how to be friends, a girl tells Blake at one point. They tell each other everything, give each other presents, and are always there for each other. Boys don't do that! And while Blake feels hotly defensive of his own close friendship with his pals, he doesn't quite know how to convince her; he just knows how important it is. Readers of Ostrich Boys will certainly agree with Blake that Guy Friendship is a deep thing indeed.

A fine road trip/friendship novel for ages 13 - 16.

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