I hate not finishing books, but I just couldn’t make it through In the Path of Falling Objects. This isn’t necessarily because it’s a bad book – I reserve judgment on that – but because I couldn’t handle the grit and ugliness of the stuff that happens in the novel.
I loved Andrew Smith’s book Winger, which is why I was so eager to read In the Path of Falling Objects. As it turns out, though, the two are nothing alike. Winger is hilarious, goofy, prep school fun (at least until the end – then watch out), all about friendship and crazy stunts and sports camaraderie and first love. In the Path of Falling Objects is more dirt and desperation and blood and terror and chaos.
The story is set in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Two brothers, Jonah and Simon, have left their home in New Mexico and are making their way on foot to Arizona, where they plan to greet their father when he’s released from a stint in jail. All the two boys have to their name are $10 dollars, a canteen of water, one or two changes of clothes, a gun, and a stack of letters that their oldest brother sent during his deployment.
Tensions are high between Jonah, 16, and Simon, 14. The two are starving, exhausted, and wearing hand-me-down shoes and clothes that are worn and ill-fitting. It doesn’t help that Simon, like many younger brothers, likes to push Jonah’s buttons and fight him on just about everything.
When a big, expensive-looking Lincoln rolls up next to the boys on the desert road they’re traveling, Simon flags it down and asks for a ride. The car’s inhabitants – a gorgeous young girl named Lilly and a scraggly-bearded guy named Mitch – acquiesce, and despite Jonah’s misgivings, the two boys take off with their new “friends.”
It becomes evident, almost immediately, that there’s something off about Mitch and Lilly. All sorts of nasty stuff commences once the brothers join up with them. Mitch and Simon (again, a 14-year-old boy) get high and strip naked together.Several people get shot in the head for no reason. Mitch purposely hits a coyote with the Lincoln and then uses Lilly’s metal nail file to saw off the coyote’s tail as a souvenir. And that’s just in the first quarter of the book.
I was really repelled by all of this, especially the coyote part and how blasé Lilly and Simon were about the fact that Mitch killed and mutilated a poor animal for absolutely no reason. Everything I read in In the Path of Falling Objects was so horrible and bleak and/or screwed up that it cast a pall over my evening and left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
This is going to sound stupid, but something else that turned me off was how dirty and gross the characters were. Apparently it’s not easy to practice good hygiene while trudging through the desert and traveling in a convertible where the top’s always down, even in the rain. The characters are constantly getting sweaty, sunburned, rained on, bled upon, etc. – and they only have a couple of changes of clothes to work with. They’ve got body odor, climb into bed in their soiled, wet clothes, go days without showering…it made me shudder. I’m so anal about cleanliness, and the boys’ lack of it skeeved me out. Especially disgusting? Mitch’s ratty beard and nasty yellow teeth. Ick.
Unlike Winger, where I enjoyed all of the characters in one way or another, I didn’t like any of the people in In the Path of Falling Objects. Simon is a little asshole who can do nothing but make an already challenging situation even tougher for his older brother, and his instant camaraderie with creepy, psychotic Mitch disgusted me. Jonah, though obviously smarter than his brother because he knows enough to fear Mitch, is still an idiot who’s easily taken in by a pretty face, even when he knows better. Mitch is just bat-shit crazy, and Lilly is a manipulative little minx who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do a damn thing to stop the madness and save the brothers or herself.
With all of these complaints in just the beginning of the book, I can’t imagine how turned off I’d be if I’d read the entirety of In the Path of Falling Objects. I can say one good thing about this story, though; it makes for a great public service announcement. Never get in a car with strangers, kids. I don’t care how thirsty or tired you are, or how hot the desert is – do not get in the damn car.