Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NIAGARA MOTEL :: Ashley Little

"There's nothing fair about life. Not one single thing. You just have to get through it the best way you know how."

Writing in the voice of a child is a tricky and perilous thing. It's also a thing Ashley Little knocks clean out of the park in Niagara Motel; readers will fall madly in love with Tucker Malone. It's no surprise Tucker is wiser and more world-weary than any eleven-year-old should be when his mother, Gina, is a peripatetic, narcoleptic stripper. Yet Little brilliantly blends Tucker's street smarts with his innocence, and his voice never feels anything but authentic.

When Gina's narcolepsy leads to tragedy, Tucker is forced to leave their current residence, the Niagara Motel, to stay at Bright Light, a home for older, troubled kids. A boy forced to deal with a grown-up situation under less-than-stellar circumstances, all Tucker wants to do is find the man he believes to be his father--Sam Malone from the television sitcom Cheers.

Tucker is drawn to fellow housemate Meredith, sixteen and pregnant. "We were a strange match as far as friends go, but magnets don't need to understand how magnetism works; they just repel each other or stick together." 

Stick together this odd duo does, through life's dramas and one of the more oddly fascinating road trips ever. It is so wildly inventive it's almost distracting (in the best of ways; go in blind and have Google handy). 

It's a testament to the strength of Little's characters and dialogue that the story never loses its focus or heart--the inimitable Tucker Malone. Ashley Little, Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize winner for Anatomy of a Girl Gang, has another winner in this tale of friendship and the hard lessons learned while making a life out of lemons. 

STREET SENSE: Tucker Malone is a young boy who can break your funny bone as quickly as he can stop your heart like arterial plaque. I'm a hard sell when it comes to first person narratives from a child's perspective, but I love every single minute I spent in Tucker's head. Funny and heartwarming through the hard spots, this will be one of my favorites of the year.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: At first I'd been nervous that maybe Dee was one of the weirdos that Gina had warned me about. But after about half an hour, I knew that Dee was not one of those weirdos. Even though she was different, she was just like everybody else. She wanted people to like her. She wanted people to see her for who she really was inside. I started to understand what Meredith meant about feelings she gets about people. But, I think for me, it wasn't the feeling I got about a person, it was how the person made me feel about myself. Dee made me feel kind of...fabulous.

Bonus passage!

Did people steal moms? I knew they stole kids. They probably stole moms, too. Moms would be more useful actually, come to think of it. If you were going to steal a person, you might as well steal a mom. Then she could make your dinner and do your laundry and help you fix your sweaters. A kid would just want to watch TV and eat chips all day.

COVER NERD SAYS:  The title and cover image don't give much away about the innards of this one, but still it intrigues. It gives you a little hint that the story might not take place in present day (it's set in the 90s), but other than that, all you've got it whatever a motel sign brings to your mind. For me, the image is a good one, but I can't say I would buy this one based on cover alone. I would certainly pick it up off a bookstore table, though, and the copy on the back would sell me instantly. The son of a narcoleptic touring stripper who thinks his father is Sam Malone? Sold. Happily so. 

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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