Thursday, June 25, 2009

"You've probably heard of it-The Last Frontier, all that stuff." Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier

I found this book at a library sale for $1. It involved a teenaged boy growing up in Alaska with a fisherman for a father. Being the mildly obsessed Deadliest Catch fan that I am, I had to buy it.

Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier is written by Tom Bodett. Yes, "I'm Tom Bodett, and we'll leave the light on for ya." That Tom Bodett. Norman Tuttle is a thirteen year-old boy growing up in Alaska in, well, I don't know when, but it's a fairly recent book. Norman is the oldest of five children, and yearning to be treated more like an adult and less like his younger siblings. His dad takes him for granted until he falls off of his fishing boat into the chilly Alaskan waters. Dad vows to treat him better after that, and their relationship does improve. Unfortunately, Norman gets his first girlfriend shortly after this, and it's all downhill from there.

Each chapter in the book is a short story, so you get these kind of snapshot views of a couple of years in Norman's life. It's that weird time between childhood and adulthood, where suddenly your friends aren't as cool as they used to be, but they're still preferable to your ancient parents. The giddy haze of first love, the gradual growing apart, the heartache after the relationship crashes and burns.... man, I don't miss those days.

Norman grows sullen and distant from his family after he and his girlfriend break up. A plot to "rescue" her from a baby-sitting nightmare to make her appreciate him again ends up making things worse. Said girlfriend gets revenge by getting Norman in a lot of trouble with his parents. He's finally sent away for the summer, to live and work on a farm with family friends in Oregon.

This book is funny. Like literally laugh-out-loud funny in a lot of places. Bodett really makes the character of Norman come alive through situational anecdotes and simple language. The stories are poignant without being sappy, and realistic enough to make the point that growing up in Alaska is really no different than growing up anywhere else. I found myself alternately cheering for Norman and wanting to slap him. I found the conclusion a bit disappointing, because I'm not sure that Norman really learns the lessons he needs to learn by the end of the book. But maybe that is the point Bodett was trying to make; that the awkwardness and mistakes of adolescence can't always be neatly tied up and resolved by the time you become an adult, or by the last page of a novel.

I haven't forgotten about Trixie; I'm working on The Mystery of the Emeralds right now. I hope to have it up next week.