Cannonball Read V: Greyhound by Steffan Piper
When I was 18, I moved from the desert to the Mid-West to attend college. I had never experienced a small town (my best friend and roommate grew up in a town of 1200), funnel cakes, or winter. It was quite a transition. My first Christmas break, I had a plane ticket to fly home for two weeks and the day before it started snowing in earnest. My ticket was out of KC and I was 2 hours away. The solution was a Greyhound ride from Columbia to KC. It was the longest 3 hours of my life. I had one giant bag, a portable CD player (I'm old,) and a few books. I took a seat in the second to the last row. I was two rows behind a man sitting with a knife in his lap, and one row in front of a guy who kept trying to pet my hair. It's a long story, but in the end I survived. I have never been on a Greyhound since, and god willing...
Greyhound, is about an 11 year old boy with a lousy Mother. A Mother so lousy, that when she meets a man who doesn't like her son, she puts him on a greyhound to go to his grandmother. It's a long trip. A California to Pennsylvania long trip. The story focuses on the little boy, Sebastian, as he makes his way across the country. He's 11 years old, stutters, and has $35 to last him for his 3 1/2 day bus ride. Oh, and he has a secret.
Sebastian boards the first bus and takes his seat at the back of the bus alone; however, he isn't alone for long. At the first or second major stop, Marcus, an African American man in his early 30 boards the bus and takes the other side of Sebastian's seat. Marcus is headed to NY to see his family after a long time away. Marcus is wise and takes an interest in Sebastian. It's something like paternal, but not exactly, which is important because it forces Sebastian to work a lot out for himself. It's impossible not to see similarities with Huckleberry Finn, but once you get past them, it's a great coming of age story all it's own.
I will say, a lot happens in three days on this bus. I mean really a lot. It keeps the ride interesting, but might not have even been that necessary. The relationship between Marcus and Sebastian is compelling enough. Piper does a great job of getting in Sebastian's head and showing the reader how he processes his surroundings. How Marcus's words impact him. And Marcus, he is the rare adult that knows when to be quiet with a child. He doesn't conclude things for Sebastian, he lets him find his own. Maybe because Sebastian isn't his own son, maybe not. The only really distracting thing about the book for me was that Sebastian's voice wavers a little. The story is told from retrospect and so a certain understanding of the events from Sebastian's older view point is expected; however it seems some memories are very immediate and feel like his 11-year-old self experiencing them, while others are clearly retold from the older, wiser, perspective. It muddies Sebastian's characterization in some places. Overall, though, it's a good book.
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