Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Fourteen-year-old Jack is sick of himself. When his military family moves to a new house in Fort Lauderdale, Jack realized this may be his opportunity to become someone else. Sadly, that someone else might turn out to be a bad kid. Jack decides that who he wants to be is his insane, juvenile delinquent next-door neighbor, Gary Pagoda. Gary steals things, lights things on fire, does dangerous stuff, and he doesn't give a shit about anybody. Not even Jack. This is it though, Jack can feel it. This is the moment he becomes someone else, someone who may not be a good kid but at least he is interesting.
A fictional memoir, this is supposed to be the moment when Jack Gantos went from good to bad. He made the shift consciously and with zeal. The problem is that it is boring. The book is just over 224 pages and it takes nearly 100 pages for Jack to light a damn fire on the grill. Readers are treated to 100 pages of Jack having flashbacks and filling us in on his family life, none of which is very interesting and could have easily been summed up in a page or two. Now, if something really interesting happened in the book, I may have been more interested, but beyond some well-placed lies and a desire to be like Gary, I never actually saw him become like Gary. Since the whole point of the book is the moment Jack "went bad", I kept waiting for it to happen, but it never did.
There are some disturbing scenes where Jack obviously makes the wrong decisions and is saved by random happenstance, but I never got the impression that Jack would ever be like Gary. Want to know why? Because Gary is a complete and total psychopath. Gary enjoys hurting people. He can't stop himself from compulsively doing horrible things to other people. He is in a constant need for a rush and usually that means doing something dangerous.
Of course, this "autobiography" is fictional too because there were far too many times that I as a reader thought, there is no way that this guy remembers everything in such vivid detail. It's not like he kept a journal back then to help remind him of things. And unlike A Hole in Me, there is no redemption for these characters, which made the whole thing feel rather pointless, like some kind of writing exercise that just went on for too long.