Buckle your seat belt. You’re in for a bumpy, exhilarating ride with this winner of the German Youth Literature Award. Even in today’s connected world, relatively little young-adult fiction from other countries is published in the United States. With its car window on the German landscape and teen culture, the late Wolfgang Herrndorf’s novel (nimbly translated by Tim Mohr) fuels an especially expansive reading experience. Lonely and caustic, Mike Klingenberg seems like the Berliner descendant of Holden Caulfield, but this 14-year-old’s tale veers from that angsty course with a classmate named Tschick at the wheel of a hot-wired car. Mike, a “rich scaredy-cat,” and his smart, “low-class” Russian friend share the bottom rung on their school’s social ladder and an affinity for philosophical reflection, which bonds them on an erratic road trip. They careen from a party at the home of Mike’s crush to a chance meeting with a young dump dweller to a too-close encounter with a pig truck on the autobahn. Believably, the boys must face the legal consequences of their joy ride, but Mike realizes that it has taught him that the world, far from being a danger, is “bigger, the colors brighter” than he ever imagined. Though labeled boring by fellow students, Mike proves anything but in this lively bildungsroman, rich with funny, poignant riffs on nicknames, boomerangs, Beyoncé, aging and the possibility of life on other planets.
WHY WE TOOK THE CAR
By Wolfgang Herrndorf
Translated from the German by Tim Mohr
Arthur A. Levine. $17.99. Age 14 and up