Carson, a proud New Yorker, is forced to spend the summer in Billings, Montana, where he and his mother will be caring for his dying alcoholic father. In spite of the fact that Carson's mother is a psychologist, they don't really talk to each other about anything that matters to either of them. On a reluctant visit to the zoo, Carson meets a stunningly beautiful girl - Aisha - who has a similarly offbeat sense of humor. His visions of charming her fall apart when he learns she is a lesbian, a fact which does not go over well with everyone in town, including her own family. Carson's relationships with Aisha, his family, and himself change as he explores the mystery about what really happened to his grandfather.
There is some extremely clever dialogue in this writing, and the author interweaves a lot of important issues that schools and writers for kids sometimes avoid, including racism, coming out, alcoholism in the family, believing in God, and struggling to find someone else in the world who "gets" you. This book includes mature content, including intentional discrimination, strong profanity, and some vehement anti-religious sentiments. The characters are well-drawn - they espouse some views which are simultaneously confident and awkward, and others which are beautifully kind or socially shudder-worthy. The contradictions in these people, whether they hide behind humor or any form of superiority (small towns), are touching because they are recognizably true. The humor is sometimes quite wickedly funny and worth turning pages, but the journey itself raises some issues for self-reflection and conversation. This might not be a book for every reader, but it's the kind of book that will be an absolute favorite, and possibly of huge value, to others.
I worry sometimes that our world actually values a lack of intelligence. Like we are considered normal if we spend our time thinking about what one of the Kardashians wears to a party, and we are considered strange if we wonder whether a bee's parents grieve if said bee dives into the Central Park Reservoir and never makes it back to the hive. One of these lines of thought makes me want to carve my eyes out, and I can assure you it has nothing to do with bees."
The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.
**Questions coming soon**
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