Reviewed by Mark Frye, author and reviewer for TeensReadToo.com
AMERICAN ODYSSEY, the first novel by newspaper journalist Brian M. Gelinas, is a "road" novel as the title suggests, a gritty tale of teen fugitives.
Hunter and Wade, both seventeen, run away to avoid a looming court date while Billy comes along partly out of hero worship and partly out of boredom. The trio plans to rob and steal their way across America, their final destination being South Dakota. The stifling confines of a small New England town, where one's future is either a dead-end job or a life of crime, spur the boys to jump a train, arming themselves with a pistol and several knives.
But Hunter is preoccupied by his past; the long road trip allows him time to think and write in his journal. Wade turns out to be a criminal without a conscience, just as Hunter was warned before they left. And Billy's arrested development leaves him unable to cope with the disappointments and dangerous twists during their illicit journey. Blue, a girl runaway who sees something innocent and trustworthy in Hunter and Billy, never warms to Wade, which creates a schism between her male companions. The four of them continue their trek westward until they finally reach the Indian reservations.
Secrets pose a recurring motif in the novel, their power to compel one to act and their power to unravel the best-laid plans. Hunter's cousin holds a secret that could have prevented Hunter from hating his hometown rival, a hatred that leads to his trouble with the police. Billy's secret goodbye note to his grandmother makes the boys known fugitives before they get far on their journey. And Wade's secret regarding their first robbery leads to the downfall of the runaways. But even an innocuous secret, like Hunter and Blue's affair, has devastating repercussions in this fast-paced thriller.
AMERICAN ODYSSEY is a cautionary tale with a dire warning about avoiding problems or keeping secrets. Pain in life is unavoidable. It can be delayed but not permanently avoided. Secrets may prevent immediate confrontations or hard feelings -- but secrets resurface. Problems avoided come full circle, often in more unmanageable shapes and forms. While the narrator asks for compassion for troubled youth at the novel's end, it is the unstated message of this story that is the most powerful: avoiding consequences and responsibility can be more damaging in the long run than the immediate pain of facing up to bad choices.
This is a powerful story, extremely well-written, with a plot that has no holes or implausibility. It provides a sense of place recognizable from other New England writers, such as Stephen King and Robert Cormier, albeit with lighter overtones. There is redemption in AMERICAN ODYSSEY, but it is costly, requiring the reader to experience Hunter's growth pains as he faces issues he sought to avoid by running away in the first place.