Reading Adventure Review: February (Western Europe)

A darkly funny coming-of-age story from an award-winning, bestselling German author making his American debut.

Maik Klingenberg doesn’t get why people think he’s boring. Sure, he doesn’t have many friends. (Okay, zero friends.) And everyone laughs at him when he reads his essays out loud in class. And he’s never invited to parties – including the gorgeous Tatiana’s party of the year. Andrej Tschichatschow, aka Tschick (not even the teachers can pronounce his name), is new in school, and a whole different kind of unpopular. He always looks like he’s just been in a fight, his clothes are tragic, and he never talks to anyone. But one day Tschick shows up at Maik‘s house out of the blue. Turns out he wasn’t invited to Tatiana’s party either, and he’s ready to do something about it. Forget the popular kids: Together, Maik and Tschick are heading out on a road trip. 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.

Welcome back to this year of reading around the world! Here we are in Western Europe, specifically Germany. We have a story about two young boys who go on an impromptu roadtrip to Wallachia (I had to google whether that was a real place and not just a setting in Castlevania). The story begins in media res, with Maik talking to the police about the theft of the car that the boys took from Berlin to Romania, and is told as a prolonged flashback. Because of this bookend structure, it actually takes a while to get going and they don’t start their roadtrip until about 40% into book. Once they’re on the road, there is a lot of setting and atmosphere description broken up by charming side characters who enter and leave the narrative too quickly (in my opinion). I don’t know if it’s just me being jaded, but I read Andrej as queer from the outset – he was too aggressive with his praise for the girls in the class, almost as if he had something to prove. The main character, Maik, is definitely very passive in the early chapters but I read him as aspec; he took authority figures at their word and followed instructions to the letter, and he had a very difficult time understanding implication. That can be read as a ‘flat character’ if you’re not sensitive to neurodivergence in fiction. There’s also a moment towards the end of the book that makes me think Maik might be on the edge of a bisexual awakening, but unfortunately the story ends before we can get to it.

There’s a lot of fluff in between the action, but the ending is sudden, dramatic, and worth the wait. I enjoyed Maik’s growth and how Tchick gave the reader another interpretation of the character outside of his own introspection. Very sweet and warm-hearted read!

Next month is Eastern Europe and I’ve chosen Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee?  🙂

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