When I was a lowly English teacher, I waged an ongoing war with our school librarian. In the sweet, precious old woman’s efforts to be worldly and up-with-the-times, she steered kids towards certain books, almost to the point of maniacal focus. Nerds got Harry Potter books. Athletes got Mike Lupica. Black girls got Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Thugs got S.E. Hinton. And that was the end of it.
On the surface that might not seem so bad. At least she cared, right? But the war began the day a charming black girl came to me and asked to borrow my Harry Potter books (this was when they’d first come out, and cost about $30 apiece…I was incredibly selfish with my books back then). I asked her why she didn’t find them in the library, and she said our librarian wouldn’t let her check them out. She’d been told she needed to be reading “important” books that would shape her as a black person.
I don’t need to go into details, but after the librarian’s car suffered a mishap that I refuse to openly take credit for, the war was finally won and the students were allowed to check out any books they wanted.
So why did I bring that up? Because Idiot Boys is decidedly a “boy book.” I know, I know…there’s no such thing. Books are for everyone, regardless of gender or race or hobbies. So why would I say such a thing?
It’s not that women can’t appreciate Idiot Boys, it’s that we would read it and shake our heads sadly, all the while picturing the cast of characters with faces of actual human males that we know. We all know a lot of “idiot boys,” or at least knew them while they were still young and doing stupid stuff. At the same time, Idiot Boys might spark a trip down memory lane for more than a few of its male readers.
It’s not at all unpleasant, but I tend not to love books that leave me wondering how the author managed to get as far as he did in life based on the sheer amount of marijuana consumed before he was old enough to even drive. It is, however, one of those books about a life that caused friends of the author to tell him, “You’re gonna write a book someday, I just know it!”
And he did. Now, all content and strange antics aside, the book is very well written and is on par with those coming-of-age stories that people rally behind. It’s like Catcher in the Rye, if it hadn’t been depressing and filled with questions about where the ducks go in the winter. It has all the epic storytelling of a great road-trip novel, like Dharma Bums or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, all without taking itself too seriously or trying too hard to be one of those books, and without actually going very far.