I follow Newcomer’s blog. That’s what led me to this book. Check him out at josephdnewcomer.com
His website tells us that El Camino Blue is “loosely based” on a journal he kept during the last four months of high school. I survived my teen years and don’t want to go back. El Camino Blue drug me back against my will.
It’s a painful read. Oh, the prose is good, it’s the subject matter that hurts.
Newcomer is savagely honest. Adolescence is not fun. Hormones rage through your body inducing physical and psychological changes – seemingly at random – with little regard for their impact on your behavior and the well-being of those around you. The best part is being done. There is a reason boarding schools exist.
Parents used to apprentice out their teen sons. Sending your teenager away to work for the blacksmith a couple of villages over wasn’t just about the kid learning a trade. Let them burn up that excess energy hammering iron at a forge.
Imagine a mash up of these movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Now, multiply the teen angst by four and delete the sight gags and multiple perspectives. Now you have El Camino Blue.
I smiled a lot reading this book. Newcomer has a good sense of wit and irony that made otherwise painful episodes fun to read. One of my favorite scenes was his mother hauling his aunt out of a bar. “My mom was brilliant in tough love psychology, though looking back, it could have been mistaken for terroristic threats.” Somehow that managed to soften the horror show that was the rest of the aunt’s story.
His feelings toward letters reflect my own, although he puts it better: “There will never be a digital form of communication which will ever be as exciting or meaningful to send or receive as a handwritten, envelope encased, lick stamped, return addressed, walked to the mailbox with your own two feet and pushed the flag up, postmarked first class, United States Postal Service delivered, motherfucking letter, period.” 55 words in that sentence, and every one of them matters. Well done.
Possibly the best thing about the work is Newcomer’s ownership of his assholery. He doesn’t want to be one and clearly realizes it after the fact. The adolescent agony of not being able to tell someone that you love them, trying to cope with the girl you love going to the prom with someone else because prom’s a week away and you hadn’t gotten up the courage to ask her is not fun.
Somehow, we emerge on the other side. Older and, hopefully, better human beings. Better equipped to deal with our emotions and the flaws of those around us. Want to know if you’ve made it? Here’s a test:
If you are over 21 and still talk about how cool you were in high school (unless you’re at a reunion), you’re still an adolescent regardless of how many trips you’ve survived around the sun. Time to move on.
Newcomer clearly has. Check out his blog and his next book, Diminishing Return. I’m going to.
No science to speak of so that’s an N/A here. The Feral-o-meter comes in at a 7.
The Blue El Camino doesn’t show up until late in the book. It’s worth the wait.