Reading a road trip book about coming of age while on a road trip to celebrate me coming of age (re: old), was one of those trippy experiences that rode the edge between happenstance and kismet. Every once in a while I come across books that I connect with, whether it be because I relate to the characters within it, the plot or merely common interests. The best however, are when I come across a book that philosophically aligns with the way I see and perceive the world, and despite all my expectations to the contrary, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson was one of those.
The name of it is both entirely apt and quite deceiving, as is the cover: an up close focus on interlocked hands of a guy and a girl walking down the highway into a blurred future. Epic within the title implies a fun romp of two teens crossing the country and it’s going to be totally awesome. It was, without a doubt, but that was just the background. The cover insinuates that it’s a romance and along the way they’ll find love. They do, sort of, but once again, that’s such a minor part. The heart of the novel, was what any good road trip is about: finding yourself while you find your way. The rather open-ended resolution with no overly neat bow tied around it only honed that point. It’s never about the destination, but the journey and throughout the highly unique formatting of the book, we get to experience it firsthand.
Amy Curry, the main character has been living on her own for the past month after the death of her father. Her mother put the house up for sale and went on to Connecticut early to get them settled and her twin brother Charlie is in rehab in North Carolina for his extreme drug use before and after the death of their dad. Abandoned to her grief, she’s pushed all her friends away and has become a former shell of herself. Mom is relatively clueless of this fact, never bothering to speak to Amy aside from giving dictums. In particular, she has ordered Amy to get their Jeep Liberty across the country from California to Connecticut with her mother’s friend’s son driving it. Mom gave them four days to do it, made reservations in the most boring places imaginable, and laid out a very strict itinerary. Not once did Mom take into account Amy’s fear of driving after her father dying in a car accident, the awkwardness of pawning her off on a strange guy two years her senior, or how unbearably structured and boring it would be. Or perhaps Mom is just lame- before setting off she sent Amy a trip journal to document what Mom might have thought to be an adventure.
Roger Sullivan is the rising college sophomore who was shanghaied into doing the driving. He appears to be the All American Nice College Guy, good looking, good taste in Indie music, with a nice sense of humor. Recluse Amy doesn’t know what to make of him, but being trapped in a car with someone driving across country allows you to get to know someone pretty quickly, and what she discovers is that he’s not nearly as Joe Cool as he appears. His college nickname is Magellan, and the history major is fascinated by explorers. He’ll go off into the great unknown, make grand gestures, and seek the great perhaps without much of a thought to the outcome.
Together, Roger and Amy decide to go off route. Armed with $500 of emergency cash and a map, they each pick a destination that has some meaning to them and is a part of their journey (whether they realize it or not) in healing themselves. Roger’s got a case of heartbreak from nasty ex-girlfriend that he can’t say goodbye to and Amy has to learn to let go of the loneliness, guilt, and depression that came from her father’s death. Along the way they meet some truly fantastic secondary characters that I will remember for a long time to come. While their cameos may be brief, they’re still well-rounded and bring a depth to the novel.
Perhaps the best aspect, by far of this book is that the reader gets to experience the flavor and culture of the Great American Road Trip. Receipts from their fast food and diner meals are super-imposed into the book, hand drawn playlists are included for each leg of the trip, cruddy road-side pictures are taped in as well as facts about each state they pass through that Amy learns from reading road signs. From California’s In-and-Out burgers to Kentucky’s sweet tea and Hot Browns, you know without a doubt that the author has done this trip. Everything about this book – both the writing and the décor, made me want to experience this fantastic trip with Amy and Roger. The iPod playlists are equal parts fantastic and obscure, and I fully plan to look them up. The food made me hungry and I think I gained ten pounds just reading about the sheer amount of grease they imbibed. But more than anything else it was how they related to each other and the open road, and how by letting yourself get lost in the infinity of the moment and the world around you, sometimes you find yourself.
If you’ve ever had a case of wanderlust and the deep and abiding need to throw caution and responsibility to the wind and just be free to be and find who and what you are- I highly recommend this book. Even if you don’t philosophically connect to it, it’s a great read with real characters. There are no easy resolutions because in a time when paranormal is reigning supreme, it’s refreshing to take a step back into messy reality.
Comment below and tell me about the best road trips you’ve taken or the one you want to some day!