Review: Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge

The Blurb: “For sixteen-year-old Ben Bancroft -- a kid with cerebral palsy, no parents, and an overprotective grandmother -- the closest thing to happiness is hunkering down alone in the back of the Rialto Theatre, watching Bride of Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. Of course, the last person he wants to run into is drugged-out Colleen Minou, resplendent in ripped tights, neon miniskirt, and an impressive array of tattoos. But when Colleen climbs into the seat beside him and rests a woozy head on his shoulder, Ben has that unmistakable feeling that his life is about to change. With unsparing humor and a keen flair for dialogue, Ron Koertge captures the rare repartee between lonely teenagers on opposite sides of the social divide.”

The Review: Ron Koertge's book Stoner & Spaz is perfect for the YA audience. Published five years before Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist it is every bit as good, and has entertaining characters in Ben and Colleen. It is definitely a coming of age novel, dealing with issues including independence, diversity, sexuality, drug and alcohol use, responsibility, and all this from the more rare male perspective. Colleen is the center around which everything in her life revolves, and she helps Ben grow up to his own potential. The concept that teens can have more of a life than just playing video games and munching Doritos is portrayed by Ben’s love for film, and through his quest to make one.

Being familiar with Koertge's writing style, and having visited with him on a personal level and taken workshops and lectures from him, it is interesting to see his work play out in published form. Some of the techniques that he uses to randomize his prose make parts of the novel feel natural and fresh. He does so many things right in this book; he effectively eliminates parental involvement in the plot, and uses Colleen as a foil for Ben and shows his growth against her static position. Koertge turns Ben from a character always in need of assistance and care, into a care provider. Very compelling.

*spoiler alert* An interesting point, Koertge does a “fade to black” when it comes to the actual sex act, but with credit is very frank until that moment. But he chooses not to write about the moments afterward, the scene to follow doesn’t exist here. My YA readers are very savvy and well read, and they were disappointed in this one regard. They wanted to see the reactions of the characters, and the ramifications of their actions. This is definitely played out on a more public scale in the end, but I think they were looking for something more immediate. Stoner & Spaz was published in 2002, which means it was probably written in 1999. There’s been ten years of realistic YA Fiction published since then. Times, they are a-changin’.

Something Extra: A Sequel! Yes, Ron is currently writing a second book with the characters from Stoner & Spaz. It was a treat to talk with Ron about the new book he’s writing. “I kind of thought Colleen’s story was finished and I was just going to follow Ben.” Then he smiled and said, “But Colleen is so interesting, the plot would seem to lag when I would try to cut her out of it, so she’s back!” He just shrugged, grinned with a “I do what I’m told” look, and wandered off to his faculty room during residency to write a few more pages. Can’t Wait! Also, if you want to get a feel for Ron's personality, read his interview with Sara Erwin at The Book Source.

Bottom Line: This was an ALA Best Book for YA and an ALA Quick Pick. It left me feeling that the world was Ben’s oyster and it was extremely well crafted as to how it all unfolds. Definitely a must read, but you will probably have to pick it up online, as it is a bit older and hard to find in most brick and mortar shops.
Grade: A


Jo said...

Another book I think I'll definitely be checking out! Thanks for the great review!