This Is the Part Where You Laugh

336p. ebook available. Knopf. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553538106; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553538113. POP
Gr 10 Up—In the opening scene of this powerful and unsettling novel, Travis is in the process of releasing two caimans—fearsome alligatorlike creatures—into the lake behind his grandparents' home. He claims that he is doing so to provide entertainment for his dying grandmother. Is his motivation this simple, or is his genuine love for his grandmother also a pretext for expressing the rage that seems to lie just beyond the realm of his understanding? No easy answers are provided, and readers are forced to decide for themselves if Travis is perpetrator, victim, or both. He spends much of the narrative searching for the heroin-addicted mother who abandoned him, and he suffered the depredations of foster care and the juvenile justice system before being taken in by his caring but poverty-stricken grandparents. Basketball provides solace and purpose for his life, but even here his violent nature intrudes, as he knocks a trash-talking opponent unconscious in a game. While he forms connections with Creature, a teammate who writes love letters to long-dead Russian princesses, and Natalie, a troubled girl who lives on the affluent side of the lake, Travis is, in the end, unable to overcome either his own impulses or the circumstances of his life. In a compelling but disturbing narrative voice, the protagonist recounts the assaults and other acts of aggression he commits in flat, uninflected, unemotional language, as if he were describing the deeds of someone else.
VERDICT A unique, unforgettable tale that is a must-have for all YA collections.

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