Phew…my head is spinning right now. I’m not really sure what to think of this book. On the one hand, 100 Sideways Miles features great characters who are entertaining and hilarious. On the other hand, it is also random and – as much as I hate to say it – kind of pointless.
In a way, 100 Sideways Miles reminds me a bit of The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand. In addition to not having any discernible message or point, both books follow a male protagonist who feels as if he’s trapped, stuck on a path he can’t get off of no matter how much he tries. In the case of 100 Sideways Miles, this protagonist is Finn Easton, an epileptic boy with a tragic childhood and an author father whose wildly popular sci-fi novel features a character based on his son.
Finn is a little peculiar. He measures life in distance, not time – something to do with the speed the Earth travels – and gets pretty philosophical about things like atoms and stars and molecules. He hates that his father’s book has made parts of his life public and feels he can’t live his own life, be his own person, etc., etc. I didn’t have a lot of patience for this. Apart from “borrowing” parts of Finn for his novel, Finn’s dad does not in any way pressure Finn to be a certain type of person or live his life a certain way. It made no sense to me why Finn feels so trapped or why the sci-fi book causes him to go through a mini existential crisis.
Then again, there’s not a whole lot in this book that does make sense. It’s a bizarre hodgepodge of random tidbits that don’t really have a point but are nonetheless a lot of fun. There’s Finn’s wacky school, which has an all-boys German Dance Club and a history teacher who frequently comes to class costumed as Betsy Ross, Charles Lindberg, a Nazi, etc. There’s Laika, Finn’s rat terrier, who likes to roll around on the carcasses of dead animals. There are jaunts to an abandoned penitentiary, road trips to Oklahoma, random ghost appearances, and dead horses that fall out of the sky. There’s a lot of cursing and vomiting and talk about erections. The whole book is just weird and funny and completely out of left field.
It’s also entertaining, due primarily to Cade Hernandez, Finn’s best friend. Cade is one of the most memorable – and outlandish – characters I’ve ever come across. He’s gross and hilarious and annoying and spectacular all at once. He’s got a knack for stirring up trouble, an astonishing ability to get people to do whatever he wants, and is capable of convincing the entire student body to participate in wild schemes. He’s popular, intelligent, insane, courageous, and strange, and I absolutely loved him. Here are a couple of quotes about Cade:
“Cade Hernandez was the kind of kid you’d dedicate hundred-foot-high monuments to, just so he wouldn’t kill you with his lethal powers of annoyance.”
“Cade smiled and kept his unblinking eyes focused on our teacher. It was a look that was particular to Cade Hernandez – a seducer’s look. It was magical and unavoidable and caused women to willingly enslave themselves to him. And I’ll admit it – sometimes when Cade Hernandez looked at me with that particular expression, I’d get flustered and embarrassed and have to turn away in frustration and sexual doubt.”
The boy has no shame; he frequently announces his masturbatory habits to the world, asks questions about boners in class, and gets Finn into all kinds of trouble. And yet you can’t help but love him. He’s all himself, all the time, and he’s my favorite part of this book.
Watching Cade and Finn interact is hilarious. If there’s one thing that Andrew Smith excels at, it’s writing great bromances. It was evident in Winger, and it’s evident in 100 Sideways Miles. Whether they’re hanging out at baseball practice, sitting in class, lounging by the pool, or getting into trouble, Finn and Cade are hysterical together. The ribbing and banter between them is stellar, and there’s a scene where the boys go to a 7-Eleven to buy condoms that had me laughing till I cried.
As much as I was entertained by 100 Sideways Miles, I still wish there’d been a little more meaning to it. If you’re simply looking for fun and laughter this book may be a good choice for you, but if you want something more I’d look elsewhere.