100 Sideways Miles, Andrew Smith

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What do you get when you cross a quirky protagonist with a horny best friend, a horse falling out of the sky, and aliens flying on angel wings? You get the very different, very charming, slightly weird 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith.

Finn Easton measures time in miles instead of minutes. The earth rotates at a speed of about 1000 miles per hour, so Finn counts increments of time, based on how far the earth has traveled in that time. He figures the horse that fell from an overpass and killed his mother traveled 100 sideways miles before it struck. That accident has come to define his own life. Himself injured in the crash, he developed epilepsy, and has a very distinctive scar on his back from the many surgeries needed to repair it. Finn's father, a famous author, wrote a well-known sci-fi book that has also come to define his life. It features a boy named Finn, with a distinctive scar on his back, that is fighting a horde of aliens that fly to earth on angel wings. His father swears the boy is not him, but Finn feels trapped by the expectations people have that he will be just like the Finn in the story.

Luckily, Finn has a best friend, Cade. Cade is a wildcard, prone to doing outrageous things both in and out of school. Finn also meets and falls in love with the new girl, Julia. Julia, who is living with her grandmother while she recovers from a sexual assault, eventually must return home to Chicago. Finn, lonely and restless, takes off on a road trip to Oklahoma with Cade, ostensibly for a college visit, but mostly just to get away from his life. While on the road trip, Cade and Finn become unexpected heroes, and that experience leads the journey to go in a whole new direction.

As strange as the premise sounds, this book is essentially a buddy comedy with a romance thrown in. While it's a buddy comedy, is it a buddy comedy with heart! Think Wedding Crashers, only with depth. Cade is in turns hilarious and horrifying, but all of that actually helps Finn stay grounded somehow. Finn has trouble seeing himself as a real boy-he feels very confined by the character his father created that isn't him, yet is him. Especially since other people have expectations about how he will be based on the book. Cade helps get him out of his head. Finn also feels inferior to the fictional Finn, who is a heroic protagonist, fighting evil aliens. Finn doesn't feel his own agency-he seems to experience life as something that happens to him, rather than as something he creates. Add to this general feeling of being an imposter the certainty of Finn's blankout seizures, and you can understand why Finn doesn't feel in control of his own life. As journeys tend to do, the road trip with Cade provides Finn the opportunity to learn about himself, grow as a person, and come to terms with some of the negative emotions that are holding him back.

While Cade's friendship provides roots for Finn, his relationship with Julia teaches him what it means to have wings. He falls for her almost immediately, and his gentle way and quirky personality is non-threatening enough for her to feel safe with him, despite her past experiences with boyfriends. I understood how lost Finn felt after Julia went back to Chicago. I remember how it feels to be left behind when someone moves on in a different direction, literally or figuratively. The love story, even though it has some darkness present in it, is still the most charming part of the story.

While the story itself is pretty outrageous and unrealistic, the themes are universal; the discovery of self, first love, friendship. Smith handles all of them with a tenderness that is not necessarily the first thing you notice when you read, but as the novel develops you see how deeply the characters feel for each other, and the way in which they support each other, even when they know the other person is making a bad decision. We should all be so lucky, which is something that Finn realizes in the end. Surrounded by people who care about you, life can be what you make it.


  1. Thank you for a review on a book that is unusual to say the least!

    1. It was definitely unusual. Thanks for stopping by!


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