Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge

Stoner and Spaz Book CoverAlthough classified as a breakthrough novel in the Young Adult genre, Stoner & Spaz–like all good novels–can be read and enjoyed by anyone.

It’s a short book, very lean and very well-written.  Maybe my own experience with cutting a large novel down to size has colored my point of view, but I have grown to really appreciate storytelling that gets right to the heart of the subject.  The characters are bold, the Southern California landscape spare, and the theme explored relentlessly.

Told from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Ben Bancroft, a survivor of Cerebral Palsy, it relates his experiences with Colleen Minou, a stoner girl at his high school.  Ben is a true nerd, a cinephile who lives through his experiences with movies.  He has seen so many that he understands the form intimately.  He knows why tracking shots are used, how black and white enhances certain movies, why characters act the way they do, and he deeply wishes he could live his own life as if he was one of those powerful, charismatic characters.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he feels the weight of that half of his body that is completely unresponsive.  He stays away from the other kids, lost in his own little world.

That changes one night at the Rialto Theater when Colleen asks to borrow a couple of dollars because they won’t change the hundred dollar bill in her hand.  To his surprise, she tracks him down in the theater and sits with him.  Although he’s mortified, he’s also a little turned on, especially when she falls asleep with her head on his shoulder.

Thus begins an unlikely relationship that turns Ben completely around–and opens him up to the possibilities of his own life.

There are several great things about the book.  One, obviously, is the interaction of two kids who are complete opposites, each discovering the other’s world and opening themselves to change.  But secondly, and most important, is Ben’s character arc.  For me, the best stories involve a character that must go through dramatic changes in order to realize his or her potential.  And the more barren the character at the beginning, the deeper and wider the potential for change.  By using an introverted character with Cerebral Palsy, Koertge begins in a pretty deep chasm.  To deflect potential darkness, he gives the character a quirky, smart, self-deprecating sense of humor.

The leanness of the book also works to advantage in that it could be a movie itself.  Think how some movies fail because a director is in love with long, tracking shots, mood shots, unnecessary character background, and long scenes.  Successful films are edited down to what matters–all of the unimportant stuff lays on the cutting room floor, rather than padding out a 90 minute film into a two hour bore.

Stoner & Spaz is a wonderful little novel, something that all writers should read and something that will entertain and enlighten every one who reads it.  Highly recommend!

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