Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf
Published by Andersen Press in 2014
My copy: Library
Mike doesn’t get why people think he’s boring. Sure, he doesn’t have many friends. (OK, zero friends.) And everyone laughs at him when he reads his essays out loud in class. And he’s never invited to parties.
But one day Tschick, the odd new boy at school, shows up at Mike’s house out of the blue. He dares him to go on a road trip with him. No parents, no map, no destination. Will they get hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere? Probably. Will they meet crazy people and get into serious trouble? Definitely. But will they ever be called boring again? Not a chance.
Although I’ve read a fair amount of young adult fiction over the years, I’m pretty sure this is the first German one I’ve encountered! Interestingly, the format is much the same – our narrator Mike is a teen, a bit of a loser, and is in love with a girl in his class. He ends up befriending new boy Tschick who, at first glance is even more of a loser than Mike! To escape a pretty miserable homelife – an alcoholic mother and philandering father – Mike takes off with Tschick in his battered old Lada on a road trip.
Like I say, the story has been done before, but what set this apart from other novels is that it is genuinely funny. I really liked the banter between the characters and both our heroes are self-deprecating and strangely likeable. It’s a really easy read and I enjoyed their adventures while on the road. On the downside, I did feel the book dragged at times and I would have liked a bit more about the characters themselves and less about specific incidents; we never really find out much about Tschick’s background and although I’m sure this was intentional, I would have liked a bit more about him and what motivated him. I also wished they had met a few more people on the road as well as this may have added something to the novel.
I did love the end of the novel – the final scene is one that will stay in my mind for a while! I was also sad to read that the author is no longer with us as he apparently committed suicide after learning he had cancer.
Overall, this is a fun read which, although not covering any new ground, kept me entertained and had a few moments of good comedy value too.