A Case for "Exit Here"

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll—a few of the cornerstones of realistic young adult literature. Now throw in a good portion of porn, rape, murder and a cast of callus, delinquent (even criminal) characters that have no respect for themselves or others—yes, we are still talking about young adult fiction. All of these, and more, can be found in Exit Here (2007), by Jason Myers.

So what could possibly be the value of having a book like Exit Here on the young adult classroom or library shelf?

Myers tackles some of the traditional themes of the young adult novel: searching for self, redemption, learning right vs. wrong, the price of knowledge, and taking responsibility for ones actions. Exit Here is overly sensational, gritty, and probably would be improved by being whittled down by about 100 pages. But the scary, drugged-up, dangerous world that Myers creates is by default, sensational. The reader is lured into this scary world with the hope that something good will happen; that these characters will realize that tweaking on cocaine, date rape, violence and generally hating life has got to come to an end eventually, even if it comes at a costly price. Fortunately there are a few bright spots at the end of Exit Here but like in life, there is not always a happy ending for everyone. Isn’t that a good lesson, too?

There are attempts at literary writing in Exit Here, and a few motifs are present. With the washing/water motif; Travis Wayne regularly attempts to “wash away” his guilt of a crime the reader doesn’t quite know about, but is known to be lurking in the recent past. When he has difficulty dealing with his emotions, he swims to exhaustion in his affluent family’s backyard pool. He ex-girlfriend works at The Waterfront restaurant, and he takes her to the shores of “the biggest lake in the state” for a romantic weekend, only for the water to be too cold to swim. Soon, he realizes that it is impossible to reclaim the past, and “good girl” Claire helps Travis to realize that there is a price to pay for living the way he has lived and he has to “come clean” the right way. The reader works through the torrid conclusions of Travis’s relationships with every character, each one more horrific than the last. The other strong motif is that of the loss of innocence associated with landmarks and buildings. Laura Kennedy lost her virginity to Travis in a playground. That same playground is set for demolition, and Travis convinces his father to donate the property to the city he even returns there in a vain attempt to stop the loss of his reality. There are also the images of the abandoned elementary school, the closing of the Victoria Theatre, and of course the decrepit, abandoned Last Chance Motel.

Myers is not didactic in Exit Here, and the reader is left to make many of the leaps in judgment all on his or her own. Almost every character in the book essentially asks if there is redemption, even for bad people who have done really bad things. Travis asks, “Don’t you think you can right your wrongs?” (74) Laura Kennedy asks, “Do people deserve a second chance?” (174), Claire asks, “Do you think I am a good person?” (204) and finally Natalie claims the answer to these questions, “We all get what we deserve” (320). Self loathing is prevalent in the text, and in several instances characters come right out and admit that they hate themselves. Travis admits it regularly. If he felt fine about his actions, and those of his “friends”, readers would also hate him. But he is changing. This holds the story together, and the reader’s interest, knowing (hoping) that there will be a comeuppance for many of the characters.

Early in the novel, Michael tells Travis, “I’ve watched you spend your whole life not feeling bad about anything you have ever done” (49). By the end, readers know the intimate and hidden details of Travis’s sordid life, and await the reckoning that his actions require and his own realization of redemption.