Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern
Lillian is all set to enjoy a relatively peaceful and uneventful last summer in Illinois before college. Until she gets the somewhat cryptic voicemail of "I did it" from her sort-of friend Penny on her cell phone. And from that one short sentence Lil somehow determines that maybe Penny was faking her own kidnapping. And maybe, since the last phone call from Penny's phone (conveniently left behind a the scene of the "kidnapping") was to Lil, she might know something about it. Dodging questions from the local police and eventually the FBI, Lil easily talks her best friend, Josh (he of the mostly absent father and very large, very guilt-sponsored bank account that will ultimately fund their trip) into a road trip to Oregon. This trip is all based on a hunch that comes from a discussion between Lil and Penny about a boy Penny met at Disney World who lives in Portland. Along the way Lil and Josh find out if possibly their friendship might be more than they expected and Penny finds strength to reach for a future beyond overbearing family and boyfriends.
Personally, I love a good road trip book. Fiction (Amy and Roger's Epic Detour) or non-fiction (In a Sunburned Country) I won't discriminate (unless it isn't a good book, natch). And this one I considered pretty good. The fact that it turned out to be an impromptu road trip made it just that much better. They hit the road with no extra clothes and no food. Nothing but the determination to find their friend and Josh's somewhat unlimited credit card. I read this on my own sorta road trip this summer (does WA to CA count?) and one of the locations that Josh and Lil ended up at was one of the places I saw, too! I was able to spend half a day wandering around Portland, OR and ended up at their Saturday Market right on the next street was Voodoo Doughnuts. As you can see from the picture the line was HUGE so there was no way I was going to wait--donuts aren't that important to me, even if they are voodoo-licious. Oh, and I also made it to Powell's Books, the mecca of book purchasing on the West Coast.
So, on to what I thought about the book. I'm always a sucker for the best friends who have been kept apart by weird circumstances, weird emotional issues or something else bizarrely unfortunate but know they still belong together. I don't want to ruin the ending (and I don't think this will) but I'm not sure if I like Josh and Lil as a couple when they were "just friends" or when they decided to try for "something more." But, because they have great chemistry and they get along quite well and are the perfect foils for each others strengths and weaknesses I don't think it really mattered in the end. And, with the ending as ambiguous as it was, I think I can comfortably put the book to rest with my mind not made up as to whether they work together or not.
While this seems like a madcap type of adventure it actually goes a little deeper. Through diary entries or letters or something by Penny we see that she's basically brow-beaten and taken advantage of by her parents as a babysitter for her "perfect" younger sister and a (mostly) verbal punching bag for her boyfriend, Gavin. For Penny this trip is more about becoming her own main focus instead of focusing her life on her parents, her sister, her boyfriend or even the friends she hangs out with. I thought that was very strong of somebody who was initially depicted as everybody's lackey.
For the most part I really liked this book--the impulsiveness of the road trip, the fun and interesting sidetrips (to Wall Drug, House on the Rock, etc.), the self-exploration of Lil, Josh and Penny and especially the random theme t-shirts Josh and Lil pick up along the way to create their wardrobe. However, I think the wrap-up of the Penny search in Oregon was pushed to accomodate the length of the book. The ability and coincidences that lead Lil and Josh to Penny and her friend were a little too easy for me. I mean, Portland is a fairly big city (so big that they end up not being able to find their car) but they get lucky on almost their first try (they ask some random kids at a random skatepark if they know another kid named Ethan that works at such and such place and the answer is yes)? It seemed a little quick to wrap up, especially searching for two people in a city of over 580,000 (plus tourists) without the use of a cell phone and very, VERY little information to go on. But since the trip there was so entertaining I decided to give that a pass (even though it still bugs me just a little).