In Michael Harmon’s The Last Exit to Normal, Ben, a seventeen-year-old troublemaker, his gay father, and his father’s partner, a man Ben jokingly refers to as his “momdad,” pack up and move from Spokane, Washington, to Rough Butte, Montana, where Edward, the momdad, grew up. They move in with Miss Mae, Edward’s mother and possibly one of the most ornery old women in the world. At first, Ben is reluctant to even try to make the situation work. He’s mad at his dad for his lifestyle. Ben is ticked that his dads moved because they said his behavior was getting out of control. And he’s not really happy with Miss Mae hitting him with wooden spoons every time he steps out of line.
Things gradually get better for Ben. He still has issues with this dad and a smart mouth that tends to lead to trouble, but his life is improving. He meets a girl who he immediately falls in love with, he works out a deal with Miss Mae to buy an old truck, he learns to hunt, he saves a man’s life, and he seems to be finding his place. But he worries about Billy, the eleven-year-old boy next door. Billy seems to be a nice, hard-working kid, but nothing is ever good enough for his seemingly abusive father. Can Ben help this kid? Is it even his problem?
The Last Exit to Normal is an engrossing book that readers will not want to put down. I found myself thinking about it when I should have been doing other stuff. Ben is a character that I found very easy to identify with. (I, too, have a somewhat smart mouth that gets me into sticky situations occasionally. I know…hard to believe.) I think many young adults may relate to Ben’s attitude, but they could also learn something by reading about how he grows up and learns what it means to really be a man.