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The International Writers Magazine: Teen Fiction Review

Why We Took The Car
By Wolfgang Herrndorf
Andersen Press
ISBN 978-1-78344-031-3
• Sam Hawksmoor review
Take one boring kid with no friends.  Let’s call him Mike. Mike (14) lusts after the gorgeous Tatiana, the class beauty, who is obsessed by Beyoncé, who, of course, ignores him and he’s definitely not on her cool birthday party list. (Despite secretly spending weeks making a drawing of Beyoncé he’s too scared to give her.)

Why we took the car

Add Tschick, the sullen 14-year old Russian boy just arrived in class, too cool to do any assignments, but just might be the smartest kid in school. The girls seem to love him and Mike just can’t understand it. Trouble is definitely going to appear any minute. Mike just can't stand himself sometimes.

It’s vacation time, endless weeks of boredom beckon and Mike is on his own as his mother’s in rehab and his father is off on a trip with his young mistress. So it’s Tschick who comes visiting. Seems he has access to a car. It's a beat up Lada and he has a special technique to open and hot wire it.  He’s planning a road trip to Wallachia, which Mike is pretty sure, doesn’t actually exist on the map. He wants Mike to come with him.  Mike is reluctant. He isn’t even sure they are even friends. But staying home doesn't appeal either and well, this would be an adventure, right? Make him just slightly less boring.

Could be this is the German version of Ferris Bueller, but not quite, these kids are way too young to be driving, let alone attempting long road trips and trouble lies around every bend. Such as how do you fill up the car if no one will sell you petrol? What if you need to siphon fuel and you are suddenly being pursued by a crazy girl who seems to be living on the town dump?

Luckily Mike’s Dad left him some Euros – so they aren’t going to starve, but Tschick might not be right in the head and the girl who won’t leave them alone, definitely isn’t. Tschick doesn’t want to do all the driving so he teaches Mike the basics and he’s hooked immediately. No way he can turn this road trip down… even if the only CD they have is Richard Clayderman.

An excellent 'Wonder Years’ novel, beautifully written by the late Herrndorf (who sadly shot himself after being diagnosed with cancer) and gives us a clever and witty insight to European kids, their lives and concerns that, quelle surprise, are no different to our own, only funnier. I wish there were many more European books available in translation. One wonders why not, given that the Germans and French own most of UK publishing. Love, success and map reading – all of life’s essentials are up for grabs.

© Sam Hawksmoor  Nov 24th 2014
author (with Sam North)  of Another Place to Die: The Endtime Chronicles
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