This one was recommended by Colleen over at Chasing Ray – thanks, Colleen!
12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn by James Proimos Herc was nicknamed Hercules by his father when he was six. But his father has just died in a plane crash. He was a popular self-help expert, loved by his audience, but a terrible father. Herc, definitely up there on the difficult teen scale, gives this eulogy at the funeral: “He was an ass. My father was a complete and total ass.” Following this, and no doubt further trying incidents at home, his mother ships Herc off to his uncle in Baltimore for two weeks. In the train on the way there, he sits by a Beautiful, Unattainable Woman who is reading Winnie the Pooh. When she leaves the book behind, he determines to track her down to return it. Meanwhile, his uncle, busy working long hours, gives him, like the Hercules of legend, twelve tasks to accomplish: Choose a mission. Find the best pizza joint in town. Clean out the garage. Muck the stalls at Riverbend farm. Read a complete book under a tree. Go to a place of worship and pray. Go on seven job interviews. Spend the day thinking big thoughts. Write them down. Eat a meal with a stranger. Make your uncle something. Recite a poem at Blake’s Coffee shop Midnight Poetry Reading. Complete your mission. Somehow, the force of his uncle’s personality is enough that Herc goes with it, forming most of the book.
There are, in my opinion, way too many Dead Parent teen books, but this is one of the good ones. Despite the potentially depressing premise, this is hilarious, with short, active chapters. In fact, the whole book is really short at only 128 pages, which makes it perfect for reluctant teen readers. The tasks seem random and he accomplishes them in ways that are definitely more surface-oriented than serious – but Herc manages to sort through his tangled feelings for his father along the way. And who could resist his discomfiture at finding out that the woman of his dreams is named Thelma or the job interviews at entry-level jobs where he makes up different punning names suitable to the job for each one (wishing I had the book here for quotes now.) In any case, this is one certainly to read for pleasure and also to put in the hands of teens who need something fast and fun that still packs a wallop.