Book Reviews

Published on May 4th, 2022 | by Connor Hultman

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Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “Teenager,” by Bud Smith

Teenager
by Bud Smith
Vintage ($17)
Available at Square Books May 10 (preorder here)

Imagine you could watch Bonnie and Clyde in one eye and Natural Born Killers in the other, with a voiceover by Richard Brautigan, a soundtrack by John Mellencamp, and a cooler full of Peach Nehis in the corner. This summer, you can: read Bud Smith’s Teenager.

Tella Carticelli lives in the broken heart of New Jersey with abusive parents and a brother away in the Navy. At a football game, she meets Kody Rawlee Green, an epileptic rebel with a rocky past. Tella becomes his “Teal Cartwheels,” Kody her underage Elvis. They set every bridge in their lives on fire and set off on a scenic crime spree through the US of A.

Atticus Lish described Teenager in a quote on the cover as “A great artistic high-wire act.” I agree with this statement. This is a wild story, with incredible characters doing unimaginable things, and you will believe every word of it. What would be artifice becomes realer than real with that old magic: a good voice. No line, however small or functional, is a missed opportunity for the author, hardly a target is missed, and the whole thing rolls out like a beautiful song. From a random page, a description of Montana:

“Endless canyons of igneous rock. Dinosaur fossils. Jagged terrain. Badlands resembling Mars.

A silver mirror of a lake reflected his sleeping body, soaring among clouds. Green fields riddled with purple aster, bitterroot, daisies. Lodgepole pine up and over.”

And another page, while on the road:

“He pulled the car into the lot of a chrome diner designed to look like a knight in glowing armor. The place had signs claiming they were the best for everything.

BEST COFFEE IN AMERICA

BEST PANCAKES IN AMERICA.

BEST WAFFLES IN AMERICA.

BEST SAUSAGE LINKS IN AMERICA.

BEST SOUP IN AMERICA.

BEST LETTUCE IN AMERICA.”

Teenager is one of the few great books about teenagers because it is funny without condescension, sad without sentimentality, and has no moral at the end. It made me feel alive without lying to me.

Also, almost every chapter has a line illustration by Rae Buleri that would make an excellent tattoo. There are sixty-four and a half chapters. You could get a tattoo of a goldfish in a glass, a Garfield clock, a bunch of bananas, a milkshake, a coyote stalking a hen, and more. That’s a lot of tattoos!

Bud Smith will be coming for Thacker Mountain Radio on Thursday, May 12, at 6 pm at the Old Armory Pavilion. Get a copy of Teenager, available May 10, and get it signed. Read it on a plane, read it on the beach, and throw it into the ocean, and then buy another one. Read it to know where the American Dream has gone. This book is our new myth.

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