Ah, the open road. The fresh air. The wind in your face. The warm sunshine and long drives. The pit stops and convenience stores. Camping under the stars. Running out of gas. Acting like tourists. Trying to read maps.
What do they all have in common? They’re components of road trips!
And we all know the best time to hit the road is summertime – no school, no work, no regrets. Just spontaneity. But that’s not really how road trips happen, is it? Most likely, you’re traveling with parents or siblings or other family members. You may even be with friends. But you’re probably not with strangers. (Or are you?)
So what is it about stories of YA road trips that’s so compelling and fun-loving? Because, more often than not, our beloved protagonists are traveling with (relative) strangers. Take Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, for example. Family friend or not, Amy knows very little of Roger. Yet, she preps to travel across the country with him. And she does so with ease (and a bit of a crush!). I don’t think I could be as cool as Amy in that type of situation. Thrown into a car, for days, with a random guy? I’ll pass, unless he’s Orlando Bloom.
But, as readers, that’s what hooks us, right? The immediate tension and conflict of knowing that our narrator will be thrown into the unknown.
But unplanned trips with friends can be just as compelling. In Saving June, Harper hits the road with her friend and a mysterious bad boy she knows little about. The trip sounds crazy, but knowing her friend is with her helps ease Harper’s nerves. This situation is a bit reminiscent of that cheesy Britney Spears movie (Crossroads). What begins as a fun, thoughtful trip between two friends quickly becomes an electric tango between Harper and Mystery Boy, brimming with the possibilities of love.
It’s the mere possibility of love that keeps us going and rooting for the pair, despite how horribly the trip may be going . So what if you’ve run out of money, gas and food? All you need is love!
Of course, things could be worse. You could be traveling cross-country with your ex, which seems almost as terrible as traveling with a stranger. But that’s exactly what happens in Two-Way Street.
Courtney’s boyfriend breaks up with her before their big road trip to college orientation. Talk about awkward. Could you sit in a car for that long with any of your exes? It sounds like intentional torture. But, again, because they were previously together, there’s plenty of tension – good and bad – between Courtney and Jordan. And that possibility of getting back together keeps us in for the long haul, at their expense.
But the one thing we tend to forget in any road trip story is age. More often than not, the characters are no more than nineteen years old, and as young as sixteen. And it makes me think, Isn’t this a little far-fetched? How can a sixteen year old just up and leave? Road trips differ from running away. They’re not permanent. At the end of the day, there’s always that cloud of uncertainty hanging around. Angry parents are right around the corner, waiting for your return. But why is it so easy to leave in the first place? Is it really that easy to sneak out at night? And if the trip is planned, is it really that easy to let your teenager go off on a cross-country tour (with or without strangers)? How would the story change if the parents forbid the trip, the companions?
But sometimes the characters are too far away to be controlled, like in 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Ginny gets to go overseas without parental supervision. The only present authority figure is her uncle, and even then, he can barely keep her under his control. From London to Scotland and anywhere in between, Ginny embarks on some crazy adventures… with a stranger! (I’m seeing a theme here.) But we all know how it goes, as far as foreign love interests are concerned: they get a big fat YES. (Etienne St. Claire, anyone?) They represent the one major thing consistent with nearly every YA road trip: summer flings.
Girl/Boy friends by their sides or not, the protagonists usually unintentionally fall for someone that’s also along for the ride, or that they’ve met on the way. And that’s what does it for us readers. Not the relationships themselves, but the hope and fun that comes from them. Who hasn’t wanted to just pack up their bags, hit the road with some friends, and meet a hottie during the journey? It’s wild and crazy, yes, but just as thrilling and eye-opening. It’s about getting to see the sights and maybe also getting to be an entirely new you. It’s about discovery – physical and metaphorical.
Of course, not everything is about love. Road trip stories in the YA genre also serve to transport readers to new places with new perspectives. A tiny, tumbleweed town may not be a total drag. Acres of farmland or camping grounds can be beautiful things. Trinkets from roadside stands may be the best gifts of all. The very act of traveling provides readers another level of excitement. You don’t know what the characters are going to have to deal with, but you travel with them anyway. You learn from their mistakes.
Ultimately, it’s the freedom that a road trip brings that is the most appealing. The freedom to just go and be. But, if it’s YA, you might want to pack that extra mascara and tissues in your luggage. Because it’s going to be an emotional ride!
And, if you haven’t done so already, you might want to check out these and other YA road trip novels. They’re perfect for summertime and make you feel all good inside. Who’s in a road trip mood now?!
What do you like/dislike about YA road trips?
(Also: if you know of any other good road trip books, please comment and let me know! I’m totally in the mood for some fun and sun, rather than doom and gloom.)
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