Cover image for Punkzilla
1st electronic ed.
Publication Information:
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2010.
Physical Description:
1 online resource (136 p.)
Target Audience:
1200 L
Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2010.
"Punkzilla" is on a mission to see his older brother "P", before "P" dies of cancer. Still buzzing from his last hit of meth, he embarks on a days-long trip from Portland, Ore. to Memphis, Tenn., writing letters to his family and friends. Along the way, he sees a sketchier side of America and worries if he will make it to see his brother in time.
Lexile Measure:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Internet Site XX(793009.1) 1

On Order



An award-winning writer and playwright hits the open road for a searing novel-in-letters about a street kid on a highstakes trek across America.

For a runaway boy who goes by the name "Punkzilla," kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all -- from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla's journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

At 14, pot-smoking, DVD player-stealing Jamie is no angel (though his androgynous good looks get him plenty of attention). He is sent to military school, but soon goes AWOL, spending some rough months in Portland, Ore. (mugging joggers, trying meth), before heading to Memphis by Greyhound bus to visit his gay older brother, Peter, who is dying of cancer. Rapp (Under the Wolf, Under the Dog) tells the story through Jamie's unsent letters, with additional letters from relatives and friends giving more background and context. Jamie, who has ADD, details every step (being taken advantage of sexually, getting jumped, befriending a female-to-male transsexual, losing his virginity) in expletive-filled, stream-of-consciousness narration with insights into seedy roadside America ("I think that as a general rule lonely people give other lonely people money a lot") and his own situation. Whether Jamie will survive his bad luck and make it to Memphis in time gives the story tension, but while Jamie leaves much behind each day on the road, little is found. The teenager's singular voice and observations make for an immersive reading experience. Ages 14-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(High School) Nobody writes about the disposable, marginalized youth of America with the same sense of uncomfortable, voyeuristic fascination as Adam Rapp, though his novels, featuring characters ill-equipped to deal with life's problems, can feel gratuitously brutal. Still, with several years having passed since the publication of his last YA novel (Under the Wolf, Under the Dog, rev. 10/05), fans will be eager to read this new one-and with good reason. Rapp's quirky idiomatic expressions, striking word choices, and stream-of-consciousness prose style are ample evidence that his facility with language remains as impressive as ever, while his use of an epistolary format adds a degree of narrative sophistication. Fourteen-year-old Jamie feels a strong connection to his gay older brother (both of them black sheep in their family), and writes him a series of letters while traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Memphis for a visit. These are interspersed with earlier missives written to Jamie from various friends and relatives. Gradually, Jamie's history emerges: how he felt disconnected; how he ran away from military school; his time on the streets, the ennui punctuated by drugs and sex and crime; and finally his long, strange trip. That his brother is dying of cancer adds urgency (not to mention poignancy) to Jamie's race to beat the clock. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The 61-word run-on sentence on the first page sets the stream-of-consciousness tone, and then two pages later there's hand jobs and meth yep, it's a Rapp novel, all right. And the quality hits the high standards of 33 Snowfish (2003) and Under the Wolf, Under the Dog (2004). Fourteen-year-old Jamie (aka Punkzilla ) has gone AWOL from his military school, is off his meds, and is making his way from Oregon to Memphis, where his older brother, Peter, is dying of cancer. Though he is thankful to leave behind his career as an iPod thief, life on the road doesn't seem much better: his fellow Greyhound riders are frightening, he gets jumped in a roadside restroom, and his androgynous features land him in increasingly disturbing situations. You expect such bleakness from Rapp, but it's the flashes of humor and optimism that exhilarate. Beneath a surface of disease, despair, and disfigurements, Rapp's road trip is populated with good souls who, despite their circumstances, make significant sacrifices to help Punkzilla. Rapp constructs the book as a series of unsent letters to Peter and punctuates them with correspondence, some old enough to be heartbreakingly out of date, that Punkzilla has received from friends and family. This is devastating stuff, but breathtaking, too.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2009 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Fourteen-year-old Jamie-street name Punkzilla-is AWOL from military school. He's already lived hand to mouth in a west coast city, stealing iPods, doing cheap drugs, and getting the occasional joyless hand job. Now he is headed to Memphis where his oldest brother, Peter, a gay playwright, is dying from cancer. His story is told through his letters to Peter as he hitchhikes across the country, written in the backseats of cars, under a tree where a man hanged himself, and ultimately in retrospect when he reaches his journey's sad end. Along the way he meets the good, the bad, and the skewed, including a girl who gives him his first experience of loving intercourse. Like his brother, punk boy Jamie will never fulfill the expectations of his rigidly conservative father or meet the needs of his ineffectual mother. As in 33 Snowfish (Candlewick, 2003), Rapp pulls no punches in depicting the degrading life of children on the streets. The choice to live free from parents and school comes at a cost-to survive Jamie becomes both exploited and exploiter. But there is more here than the sordid streets. Impulsive and naive as he may be, Jamie is struggling for something that just might come close to integrity. Readers can see the good in him and even in his infuriating parents. In the end he finds shelter with his brother's lover, who opens the door to the creative life, a more intelligent and focused world-outside-the-box where Jamie just might find what he needs. Exquisitely true in its raw but vulnerable voice, this story is a compulsive read.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Rapp mines his Midwestern roots for another well-realized tale of raw teenage woe. Fourteen-year-old Jamie (aka "Punkzilla" due to his love of the music) has gone AWOL from military school and is living in a halfway house in Portland, Ore., when he gets the news that his eldest brother Peter, a gay playwright, is dying of cancer in Memphis. Desperate to see P before he dies, Jamie embarks on a cross-country journey that reads like a contemporary version of On the Road. Along the way, he encounters myriad societal dropouts, many of whom function as his bargain-bin guardian angels. Narrated in an out-of-order, epistolary manner, the tale contains the author's familiar themes of isolation, societal rejection and the invisibility of the rural poor. But his cast of disenfranchised characters is so authentically rendered (dim Bucktooth Jenny talks to her collection of doll heads, kindly transsexual Lewis cooks Jamie a hotplate meal) that fans of his gritty YA fare will be more than happy to be in his company again. (Fiction. 14 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Fourteen year-old Jamie ("Punkzilla") is coming down from his latest hit of meth and traveling across country by bus to see his brother P, a Memphis playwright dying of cancer. Jamie's letters to P tell the story of his journey and his recent turn as a military school dropout. Why It Is for Us: In the hands of this gifted stylist, Punkzilla (so named for his love of punk music) opens the reader's eyes to a seedier America. The world he views and the people he meets along the way lend this epistolary stream-of-consciousness novel an importance that extends beyond his recent personal troubles. Rapp, a playwright himself, does not waste a word. For fans of Kerouac's On the Road. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



March 4, 2008 Dear P, Hey. I'm finally writing you back. I've been carrying your letter around in my pocket so it's pretty wrinkled but you have good penmanship or cursive or whatever they call it so it's still totally readable. It actually looks like Mom's writing and I never knew that about you. I've been meaning to write back for like weeks I swear P but every time I started to do it I would get distracted like I'd have some shit to do or I couldn't find a pen or something. I've never been much of a writer anyway even though this one time in seventh grade I was in detention for skipping class and I had to do this five hundred word essay on politeness and after she read my essay the woman who was running detention this substitute teacher everyone called Mrs. Boobjob told me I had an unusual gift. She wound up giving my essay to this English teacher Mr. Douglas-Roberts and he invited me into a special composition class but I got kicked out right away for chirping like a bird during this thing called an automatic writing exercise. I haven't really written anything for a while so I hope this letter doesn't suck too bad. So I'm on a Greyhound bus and the driver's wearing a hockey mask. It's clear instead of white and you can see his skin all slimy and pressed up against the mask. When I got on he said hello and his voice was clogged and small. I think he has some sort of infection on his face and I can't tell if he's black or Mexican. I'm wearing this hoodie I found the other day and I wish I had something a little warmer. Man I feel like shit. I have the chills and I should've eaten something but I'll have to wait for the next refueling point which the driver said would be somewhere in Idaho. P I've been living in Portland for five months and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I probably won't really know for years because that's how it works right? You don't really develop feelings about a place till you've left it. It's like a girl or a dog like that black Lab E brought home after his pony league game that dog Sarge. Remember how Mom accidentally backed over him with the Olds and how you said he made that squealing sound? I miss that dog even though he only lived with us for a summer. Remember how you used to do that trick where you would put extracrunchy peanut butter on the sprinkler in the front yard and he would start licking the peanut butter off and then you would turn on the sprinkler and he wouldn't stop even though the water was shooting everywhere and he would flip his weird spotted tongue around all crazy and then you would do the fake Fifty Cent voice and it would be like Sarge was really busting rhymes or something. To be honest I've never really had a girlfriend to miss. I've gotten off here and there but I'm basically talking about hand jobs. I don't mean to be weird P but in your letter you said how you wanted the truth about stuff even if it's ugly and trust me it's going to get a little ugly. Uglier than my skittery penmanship if skittery is even a word. I can still feel the effects of the meth that me and this kid Branson did last night. It was my first time trying it and it made everything taste aluminum so I didn't feel like eating anything and now I'm totally fucking starving but I already said that right? To be honest P I'm so nervous I can practically feel my bones rattling around under my skin. The bus smells pretty bad like mold and breath and piss from the bathroom and disinfectant they used to try to cover it up and the back of the seat in front of me has a sticker on it that says which is somehow making the smells worse. Out my window the sky is so dark it's almost brown like a bunch of German shepherds got stuck up there. I imagine them snarling and baring their yellow teeth at this shit world and all of its disappointments. That's pretty much all I can see the sickly sky and rain streaking slantways across the glass Excerpted from Punkzilla by Adam Rapp All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.