I read Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens several Cannonballs ago and enjoyed it, so when I was looking for something a little lighter, I thought I’d check out another one of hers. I’m not sure if I picked the wrong one, or if Beauty Queens was a fluke, but I did NOT enjoy this one.
Jackass is 16 (I finished the book two days ago and have already forgotten his name). Jackass is your typical teen character: bored with school, with his parents, with his sister, with life. He’s obnoxious and moody. Bray gives us glimmers of potential, showing us that deep down, Jackass yearns to reconnect with his family, but the awful weight of teenagerdom is too powerful to resist. But then Jackass starts to have hallucinations and seizures. Turns out he’s got mad cow disease, and all the other kids who were mean to him feel sorry for him now, and there are pep rallies being thrown in his name.
Then he gets a visit from a punk rock angel (manic pixie dream angel in ripped fishnets and combat boots, with graffiti spray-painted on her wings). She tells him he’s seeing things from another dimension, and that Dr. X invented a thingie that ripped a hole in the universe and now fire demons are coming through to destroy the world. Only Jackass (and a shoehorned-in sidekick, Gonzo) can find Dr. X and save the world, and then Dr. X will cure him.
So Jackass goes on a 400-page quest to find Dr. X (and yes, I did have the Rocky Horror soundtrack stuck in my head all 400 pages). He meets friends and foes and pouts and whines and gathers his strength and whines a little less and makes friends and flirts with the angel. And he dreams all along that he’s back in the hospital, his parents sitting tearfully by his side. He discovers a bunch of scientists inventing a parallel dimension machine in a barn, and from there does lots of philosophizing about all possible outcomes.
The best part is meeting a yard gnome housing the spirit of Baldur, son of Odin. Baldur the talking yard gnome almost saves this book. He’s great and funny.
The worst part is all the Deep Lessons Jackass is supposed to be learning along the way. Maybe I’m too old for this YA book, but all the Don Quixote and Norse mythology allusions got super-heavy handed, and the whole Berenstain Bears finale is all about making the life you have worth living, living in the now, blah blah blah, because in another reality you’re really dying. The book aims for a nebulous but still heartwarming ending, with a happily ever after “I’ve learned what life means” ending for Jackass, alongside one where, nope, he’s totally really dead of mad cow.
I should not have stuck with this one to the end, and I’m a little annoyed with myself that I did. But I can also imagine teenage me getting more out of this, so maybe I’m just old and cranky now, and need to embrace the life I have and all its glories and wonders!!!!