Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I is Someone Else by Patrick Cooper

Stephen is a 15 year old English boy and on his way to an exchange program in France. En route he meets up with a stunningly beautiful woman and her boyfriend. They say they know his brother. His brother who disappeared over a year ago without ever contacting them again. His brother who his mother says is dead.

Stephen takes the plunge. He decides to skip his trip to France and accompany these two strangers in their VW bus (it is the late 60s after all) to Turkey to find his brother. Along the way he gets a crash course in hippie culture. The drugs, the search for life’s meaning, the communal style living…the drugs. Inevitably, his brother is said to have just left Turkey for Afghanistan and Stephen decides that he will travel on not only to find his brother, but also to experience these cultures himself.

At one point, I wished, “if only there was a map in here showing me where he traveled,” and lo and behold like magic there was one at the front of the book. Good call author! Stephen goes on quite a journey and his travels through much of the Middle East are well described. Not to mention his spurts of explosive diarrhea and dysentery. There are several, rather detailed, passages devoted just to that! It took me awhile to get into the narrative, but once I did I really appreciated the realistic writing style. The author didn’t pull any punches. Traveling to foreign countries can be difficult on the digestive system, especially if you’re fifteen, have little money, and are staying in places where cleanliness is a luxury. The drug discussion was also quite frank. There was no moralizing that I could find. Doing drugs, dealing drugs, neither of those made you a bad person. It was your actions towards other people that showed your true self.

This book was definitely an immersion into a certain time and place. Stephen embraces the various cultures he meets. He learns how to be a traveler not a vacationer, an important distinction in my mind. And the author is particularly good at describing the places he visits. The long bus rides, the mosques, the market places, the tea-houses, the rejection of western ideas of wealth, all of these make the book something special and much different than other teen books. I especially loved how the people he met wove in and out of the story. You never knew who would turn up and that seemed like something very true to the “freeness” if you will, of what these people aspired to. Everyone was on their own personal journey and no one knew exactly when or where it would take them.

Of course not all of Stephen’s experiences are positive. He is dealing with a trauma that occurred the past school year, he is betrayed by someone he thinks is a friend, he is almost stoned to death in a market place, and perhaps most importantly he finds out, for better and for worse, that people aren’t always who you remember them to be. Regardless, he finds out he has strengths that he never knew about and learns that you really can choose your own destiny.

There is a sequel entitled Tell me Lies.

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