Man, this is what I’m talking about! Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast hooked the cat from the very first page, all courtesy of Felton Reinstein’s great stream-of-consciousness narration. The type of book you put in the hands of reluctant readers, knowing they will come back for more!
Felton Reinstein is 15 and used to be just another scrawny kid, with no social life to speak of. He just has one real friend Gus, and a back history that would make any sane person depressed. At the age of 5, he found his father hanging from the garage ceiling. Now, though, his life is totally out of control and he is telling us about it in an almost feverish one-night diary-style narration. We learn that he’s grown more than 7 inches in 8 months, and doesn’t know where all the body hair keeps coming from and whether he will ever stop eating! His only friend Gus is out of the country for the summer, and Felton’s mom makes him take over Gus’s paper round, something he really doesn’t want to do. But then he discovers that Gus’s house has been let out to talented pianist Aleah and her father. And to top it, his mom, Jerri, who’d always been a non-typical mom, completely checks out mentally on him and his younger brother Andrew, and he can’t really figure out why. Almost accidentally Felton discovers that one of the side effects of his enormous growth spurt is that he is now stupid fast. This will prove to be the ideal way to get rid of the stress that this crazy summer is giving him, and – besides Aleah who he develops a crush on – the only way to stay sane and to deal with his mother’s mental breakdown. His speed gets him noticed by the jocks and the sports coach at his high school, though, and everyone is convinced that Felton has it all to make it as a D-I football player… Meanwhile, Felton finds all of this crazy and unbelievable.
Stupid Fast is so many things at once. It’s first of all the story of a boy who is literally growing up to become a man. Seldom have the physical changes of a boy turning into a man been described so aptly in a YA novel. The awkwardness of puberty that Felton feels because of these changes is also the reader’s awkwardness. All props here go to Herbach’s natural talent for capturing the confusing mess of going through puberty so well (and what a breath of fresh air to read about this from a male perspective for once!). Secondly, it is the story of a boy who always had to struggle socially to ‘belong’: weird hair (Jewfro), weird family (he has to call his mom Jerri), weird friends… Felton was the type of kid who looked at the town honkies (a word Felton and Gus use to describe the popular kids) with both disdain and fear, but who now gets to be friends with the people who used to call him “Rein Stone” and “Squirrel nuts”… and he has to admit that they’re really not that bad after all and that he might have been too quick in judging them. It’s also the story of a boy falling in love with a girl for the first time. And now there’s this fantastically talented, beautiful girl who likes him despite and even because of all his weirdness. Finally, it’s also the story of a family slowly falling apart, and a boy figuring out what to do about that.
There are several elements that make Stupid Fast work so brilliantly, but the most outstanding thing must be Felton’s voice, which is stupid funny. Even though Felton has pretty much given up his dream of being a comedian because he thinks he’s not funny enough, his almost too honest observations about the things around him, are seriously hilarious at times. The brilliant mix of a sincerity (almost embarrassingly so) and humor makes Felton’s voice reminiscent of for instance Junior’s voice in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And also just like Sherman Alexie’s book it combines life-changing events and serious emotions with humor. And that is what makes both books into such hits! That, and of course the fact that it has heart, it’s smart, it’s fresh, it’s compelling. Definitely a must read!