Title: Joe Speedboat
Author: Tommy Wieringa
Genre: Fiction, coming of age
Publisher: Black Cat (2009)
Rating: 3/6 – I liked it. May or may not keep it/read again
Synopsis from cover: When young Frankie Hermans emerges from a coma after two hundred days, he knows his life is never going to be the same again. For a start, he can’t walk or talk, and it’s a struggle even to wield a pen. And then there’s Joe Speedboat – a boy who blazed into town like a meteor while Frankie slept. Joe is a force of nature with the touch of a magician and the spirit of a daredevil; bomb expert, airplane builder, philosopher, he alone can help Frankie win back his friends, and maybe even woo P.J., the corkscrew-haired girl who has them all in a tailspin. Alive and exuberant with the revelations of youth, Joe Speedboat is the supersonic story of an unlikely alliance and a lightning-quick dash to grow up.
My Initial Thoughts/Rambling: I really don’t know how I feel about this one, probably because it was entirely different from what I was expecting. I probably should have read the review on the back – “A sparkling bildungsroman [coming of age]” and then would have known what I was getting into. As many coming-of-age stories progress, there wasn’t much of a plot, more character driven. It took me about 50 pages to understand that, but from then on I did pretty well. Possible Spoilers Ahead.
What did I think about the characters? Joe Speedboat wasn’t the sparkling comet that he was made out to be, and Frankie’s friendship with Joe was the complete opposite of what the synopsis said. I felt a bit mislead, as far as the characters go, but it worked out in the end, I guess. (I sound so convinced, don’t I?)
There was a wide variety in the cast of characters, and they were all pretty distinct from each other, but I never really connected to any of them. I kind of felt like I was peering in on their lives, not like I was involved with them.
And the concept and plot? Concept: When I first read the synopsis, I thought it would be about one boy (Joe) befriending another (Frankie) as he’s recovering from his coma, and helping him through the stages of regaining physical function. This was not so, at all. Frankie only ever manages to move his right arm at full capacity, and the little control he gains over the rest of his body still chains him to a wheelchair. And their friendship was not the focus of the story – at all.
Plot: The plot meandered a bit, but I suppose that’s what a coming-of-age is all about. However, I’ve read better, as far as how the story progressed (namely To Kill a Mockingbird). I also found it hard to pinpoint what time period I was reading about – there were mentions of bombings from Germans (making me think it’s WWII era) but then there were mentions of cell phones (modern day). I’m still not sure when this story is set.
What about the writing style? I can’t determine if the strange style is due to the fact that it was translated from Dutch, or if the author just writes in a backwards style in the first place. There were a few phrases that really jarred me, like “I feel caught; sometimes my thoughts are like muffins you can pull right out of the oven.” I understood after reading it again, but it was just really out there. I think Wieringa’s style contributed to the sense of alienation I felt when reading the book – like I was held at a distance because the wording always meandered and floated about without a solid landing.
Anything else you’d like to add? Like I said, this one was just really hard to pin down. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Leaning towards “yeah I liked it but I wouldn’t read it again and I’m probably going to sell it.” On the spectrum of “liked it”, it’s at the low end. Maybe if I had a different idea of what I was getting into, I could have settled more quickly and connected to the characters.