A novel about two teenagers, in love and insane, who journey across the United States in this Bonnie and Clyde–like adventure, pursuing a warped American dream, where Elvis is still king and the corn dog is the “backbone of this great country."
Smith’s prose is exceptional in the way it’s able to seamlessly blend a conversational tone while still maintaining a sense of control over narrative. The narration is chipper and youthful and you’re able to follow along like one of your best friends is telling you a story ... The juxtaposition between violence and tenderness in the book is stunning ... Another thing that enhances the experience of reading Teenager are the incredible illustrations by Rae Buleri in almost every chapter. Images of record players, animatronic horses, flowers, and more pepper the narrative and give us an expansive look into the world of Smith's characters ... took me for a ride—through the East Coast, to Montana, to California, all the way into my feelings. This book is full of wonder, awe, MREs, Elvis songs, wild stallions, and getaways. By the end of it, I felt like I had witnessed the rebirth of something—some spirit of Americana that’s been missing, or maybe was always there but is now out in the open, rejuvenated and bright. Whatever it is, Bud Smith’s prose made the world around me feel ethereal for a brief moment in time ... What else is there to say—this book is just a killer read.
Franz Kafka could not have set the stage better than Bud Smith for the whimsical journey that these star-crossed lovers traverse. The two lovers leaned forward into the long roads of an idyllic America, leaving nothing behind them except the sad skies of New Jersey. They just could never have predicted the hilariously bizarre and fanciful events that would come next. Impulsive and excited teenagers rarely do ... The combination of such unrelated and beguiling things seems like they couldn’t even fit into a series, let alone one novel. But the absurd and darkly humorous experiences are the beauty of Teenager ... This novel is the wayward fantasy that most adults have lost. Where we see danger, they see adventure. What we see as red flags, they see as quirkiness. Darkness does not exist for them once they are free of the adults in their lives. Only a whimsical sense of self-determination. We have felt this. Bud Smith has felt this. And now that he has written this nostalgic love letter to our youth, we can feel it again.
That Kody manages an impossible escape in the first two pages is a shrewd move by Smith. It invites the reader into this world with a challenge: if you can’t suspend your disbelief on page one, Teenager warns, you’re going to have a bad time. If, however, you can accept a certain degree of good fortune smiling upon impossible pursuits, if you can look nowhere else but forward, your reward is a beautiful, doomed adventure steeped in a lovely and vital escapism, crashing through the underbrush toward salvation ... not expressly billed as YA (though it’s easy to see younger readers falling in love with it), but it illuminates the inner lives of teenagers from the sensitive perspective of a writer who hasn’t yet had the exuberant optimism of youth wrung out of him. He writes from what feels like an authentically teenaged vantage point, rather than as an adult trying to imagine how a teenager would see the world ... One almost has to be in love—or at least remember being in love, or at least be uncynical enough to still feel charmed by a good love story—to get at the bedrock idea of Teenager, which is that love, regardless of time or place or circumstance, is always right and worth the trouble, and true love, to paraphrase Elizabeth Wurtzel, tends to take care of its own ... Unlike Kerouac’s American landscape, which Teenager pays homage to, there is not much to learn from the people inhabiting it. For all their personalities, they are ghosts, passing visions in the mad rush to an ever-shifting idea of freedom. Juxtaposed with its timeless narrative, this makes the novel undeniably modern, speaking to our baseline isolation. Over-connected as we are, to the world, to each other, we are also, at the end of the day, just passing through.