Anne Pfeffer, the author of Girls Love Travis Walker, is working in a relatively new niche in publishing, the New Adult genre. New Adult novels are aimed at readers from ages 18 to early-20s or so, and tend to feature characters of the same age in situations common to college students and/or people who are just beginning to create lives independent of their parents. (I think even younger readers would enjoy this book, too, but be warned that the language and sexual content might be a little more than some parents of younger teens are willing to condone.) Though Pfeffer has written several previous books in this genre, all published within the last few years, this is the first I’ve read. I assure you, it will not be the last.
Despite the genre, the title of this book had me expecting something very like a teen romance. While there is romance aplenty in this wonderful novel, Girls Love Travis Walker is far more than that. Even the blurb that accompanied the book sells this book short.
The plot itself is straightforward enough. Nineteen-year-old Travis Walker has fallen on hard times. His father is in prison, and his mother is increasingly incapable of getting out of bed, much less getting a job. Travis is forced to drop out of high school in order to support himself and his mother. Travis is a bright, good-looking charmer who desperately wants to avoid becoming a loser like his father (and increasingly his mother), but is rapidly running out of options. He finds work cutting brush, and takes on a volunteer job that provides free food for him and his mother. Even so, he is not making enough to keep the landlady happy, and her threats of eviction are becoming more serious.
After a chance encounter with a fire department, Travis is invited to join a teen program that prepares young people to become firefighters. He discovers that he loves firefighting and is good at it. Meanwhile, he meets a girl he really cares for, unlike his usual one-night stands. For the first time, Travis has hope: the possibility of meaningful work that he is good at and enjoys, and a relationship with someone he really loves. However, the obstacles created by his poverty, lack of education, and unwillingness to ask for help threaten to dash his hopes for a better future.
The book is well-written and well-edited. Pfeffer’s characters are nuanced and delightful. The story is nicely paced with a balance of tension and resolution that kept me turning pages. But what really makes this book lovely is harder to describe. Pfeffer shows enormous empathy and insight into the complications and humiliations of poverty and homelessness without ever seeming saccharine or preachy. She presents a credible and inspirational lesson for surviving difficult times without making her book seem even remotely like it intends to teach or inspire. She made me cry without once resorting to cheap tear-jerking techniques. I predict you will be hearing more about this talented new author. I know that I will spend the time waiting for her next book by catching up on her previous titles.