Destiny takes a detour in this “wickedly witty and offbeat novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) that was nominated for the National Book Award.
Finn Easton sees the world through miles instead of minutes. It’s how he makes sense of the world, and how he tries to convince himself that he’s a real boy and not just a character in his father’s bestselling cult-classic book. Finn has two things going for him: his best friend, the possibly-insane-but-definitely-excellent Cade Hernandez, and Julia Bishop, the first girl he’s ever loved.
Then Julia moves away, and Finn is heartbroken. Feeling restless and trapped in the book, Finn embarks on a road trip with Cade to visit their college of choice in Oklahoma. When an unexpected accident happens and the boys become unlikely heroes, they take an eye-opening detour away from everything they thought they had planned—and learn how to write their own destiny.
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100 Sideways Miles THE QUIT MISSION Look: I do not know where I actually came from. I wonder, I suspect, but I do not know.
I am not the only one who sometimes thinks I came from the pages of a book my father wrote. Maybe it’s like that for all boys of a certain—or uncertain—age: We feel as though there are no choices we’d made through all those miles and miles behind us that hadn’t been scripted by our fathers, and that our futures are only a matter of flipping the next page that was written ahead of us.
I am not the only one who’s ever been trapped inside a book.
• • •
A story involving alien visitors from outer space, an epileptic kid who doesn’t really know where he came from, knackeries and dead horses falling a hundred sideways miles, abandoned prisons, a shadow play, moons and stars, and jumping from a bridge into a flood should probably begin with a big explosion in the sky about fourteen billion years ago. After all, the whole story is rather biblical, isn’t it?
But it doesn’t.
It begins at a high school in Burnt Mill Creek, California. It begins before the summer Cade Hernandez and I went on a fact-finding expedition to visit a college in Oklahoma.
We didn’t quite make it to the college. I’m not sure if we found any facts, either.
• • •
Mr. Nossik hung motivational posters on the walls of his classroom—things about perseverance, integrity, and shit like that.
One of them said this:
OPPORTUNITY: WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES,
ANOTHER ONE OPENS.
The first time we saw that one, Cade Hernandez, my best friend, said, “Sounds like he lives in a fucking haunted house.”
I suppose it was a year for opening doors in more ways than I ever imagined.
• • •
At Burnt Mill Creek High School, the people in charge were constantly on some kind of pointless mission to get us kids to quit doing shit. All schools everywhere are like that, I think. Quit Chewing Gum flopped in ninth grade. Quit Using Cell Phones was dead before it started. And, now, during the second semester of our junior year, the quit mission involved “fuck.”
Not doing it, saying it.
It was destined to fail.
More than a century of public education that aimed its pedagogical crosshairs at getting teenagers to quit having sex, quit drinking, quit driving so fast, quit taking drugs, never had the slightest behavior-altering effect on kids.
Not that I did any of those things. Well, some of them.
Now we were caught up in the Burnt Mill Creek High School mission to make us quit saying “fuck,” which is more or less a comma—a punctuation mark—to most teenagers when they speak.
The teachers and administrators at Burnt Mill Creek High School might just as well have focused their energies on getting tectonic plates to quit making so many fucking earthquakes.
The brains behind the Quit Saying “Fuck” mission was our history teacher, Mr. Nossik. He and the staff at the school painted signs with slogans that said things like NO F-BOMBS, PLEASE! (the kids called them “fuck posters”), and teachers even wore specially printed WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE, O PIONEERS! T-shirts. The kids called them “fuck shirts.”
The campaign only made things worse.
By May, Mr. Nossik was about to explode.
• • •
We were all about to witness a Nazi having a stroke.
Here is what happened: Our teacher, Mr. Nossik, believed in making history “come alive.” So, naturally, on May 7, which was the anniversary of the German surrender in World War II, Mr. Nossik dressed himself up as a Gestapo kommissar.
What a nice scene: a Nazi at the front of a public-school classroom filled with sixteen-year-old boys and girls.
You can’t make history come alive. History is deader than Laika the space dog.
And I’ll admit it—nobody in my class ever learned anything from Mr. Nossik’s living displays. Are you kidding me? This was eleventh grade. Shit like that stopped working on our brains around the same time the training wheels came off our bicycles.
Besides, Mr. Nossik’s so-called “living history” often pushed things a little too far. One time last March, he dressed up as a battered drowning victim to commemorate the catastrophic failure of the St. Francis Dam.
History lives, it dies, and it comes alive again as the soaking-wet, mangled, and bloodied corpse of a Mexican ranch hand.
My mother was a Jew, which technically makes me a Jew. Only a few people know that about me because on the surface I am an atheist; and with a name like Finn Easton, who would guess I’d feel a bit edgy around a forty-five-year-old freak who liked to role-play genocidal war criminals?
I am named after the Mark Twain character, by the way.
I am not named after the Finn in my father’s book; I swear.
So: My best friend, Cade Hernandez, who always sat next to me unless Mr. Nossik kicked him out of class or assigned him a back-row desk facing away from the lectern (just because Mr. Nossik frequently couldn’t stand looking at Cade), raised his hand and asked our Nazi leader this: “Mr. Nossik, why do I always get a boner in this class, at exactly eight-fifteen, every morning? This is ridiculous!”
Who wouldn’t laugh at a boy who asked a Nazi a question about getting an erection?
Besides, Cade Hernandez was our de facto commander in the Stop Trying to Make Us Stop revolution, our act of defiance against the quit missions. Cade Hernandez ran the school. He could get anyone to do anything he wanted. Cade Hernandez was magic or something.
Mr. Nossik’s face reddened, which, in the aesthetic arrangement of things, matched the color scheme of his outfit perfectly.
Let me tell you something else about Cade Hernandez: As the school’s de facto commander in the Stop Trying to Make Us Stop revolution, he was an expert button pusher. The moment any authority figure challenged Cade’s control over things, the game was on.
Mr. Nossik despised Cade Hernandez as deeply as anyone could ever hate another person.
It was only a matter of time until Mr. Nossik came up with some type of Quit Being Cade Hernandez mission.
To be honest, all us kids in the class loved to see the two of them square off. Cade routinely won. At least once a week, Mr. Nossik would tell Cade that he couldn’t stand looking at him anymore, so he’d order Cade to the back of the room, as far away from Mr. Nossik’s desk as possible.
And Cade frequently wasn’t doing anything to justify his banishment.
But Cade Hernandez did have a way of just staring and staring—without blinking—calmly showing the faintest trace of a smile on his face as though he were saying, Come on, fucker, let’s see who wins today.
That was it.
Cade stared and stared and smiled and smiled.
And that was how he looked at Mr. Nossik on May 7, Nazi Day, when Cade Hernandez, in as straightforward and sincere a voice as you could ever imagine, asked our Gestapo kommissar teacher why he got a boner during history class at the same time every morning.
This was Cade Hernandez, a kid whose lower-body blood flow apparently had tidal predictability.
Mr. Nossik, his voice quavering as though he’d just swallowed a fistful of feathers and sand, stamped his jackbooted foot and told Cade to GET OUT of the classroom immediately.
Man! The only thing that could possibly have made Mr. Nossik look more like Hitler at that moment would have been a toothbrush swath of black hair on his upper lip.
And Cade, all innocence and self-pity, said, “Can I wait a couple minutes before I stand up, please, Mr. Nossik? Seriously, this thing is ridiculous!”
We all laughed again.
And Mr. Nossik—in a voice reminiscent of the most fiery Nuremberg Rally oratory—stamped and shrieked, “GET! OUT!”
So Cade Hernandez, smiling slightly, completely unashamed, stood and walked across the room to wait outside the door while the quaking Mr. Nossik composed himself.
Of course, everyone looked to see if Cade really did have a boner.
I’m not saying.
And Mr. Nossik, our Gestapo kommissar, didn’t actually have a stroke that morning, but I believe some crucial arteries and shit inside vital parts of his body got dangerously close to their bursting point every time Cade Hernandez put pressure on Mr. Nossik’s hair-trigger nerves.
• • •
Cade Hernandez and I both played baseball for the Burnt Mill Creek High School Pioneers baseball team.
Cade was our pitcher—a lefty who’d been scouted by the majors, extremely talented—and I played the outfield, usually right. I would not want to play a position like pitcher, where there is such a high likelihood of making costly mistakes.
Costly mistakes, like sexual confusion and nuclear weapons, which by the way are both legacies passed down from the greatest generation—the guys who whipped Hitler—are strongly related to extinction.
Who wants that?
Cade’s nickname was Win-Win, but it had nothing to do with his record as a starter. I will explain later, since I wanted this part of the story to be about me: Finn Easton.
After losing his mother at a young age in a bizarre accident that left him with a broken back and epilepsy, Finn has been coping but never quite feeling up to meeting life’s challenges. With the help of his charismatic best friend, Cade, a heroic rescue in which the two boys ultimately rescue themselves, and the risk of romance with Julia, Finn begins to see everything differently.
Read Maya Angelou’s poem Caged Bird. Pay particular attention to images of clipped wings and shadow. Why does the caged bird sing?
1. Finn thinks about time in terms of space. He wonders about cosmological concepts and principles that hold the universe together. What does Finn’s fascination with the cosmos reveal about him?
2. What does it mean to be trapped in a book? Have you ever felt trapped? How so?
3. Finn comments, “When you think about it, the universe is nothing but this vast knackery of churning black holes and exploding stars, constantly freeing atoms that collect together and become something else, and something else again.” What does Finn mean by this?
4. Do you have cosmic concerns similar to Finn’s? How are your concerns similar to, or different from, Finn’s?
5. What qualities does Finn have that have allowed him to endure and eventually thrive despite the tragic and difficult circumstances of his life?
6. Finn and Cade are unlikely friends. What is the basis for their friendship? What do their differences reveal about each other? Have you ever had a best friend who was unlike you?
7. What do you think compels Cade to be provocative? What does this tell you about him? Have you ever had, or wanted to have, a friend like Cade?
8. What does Finn mean when he says, “I generally considered how nice it would be if I could simply stop myself from hurtling through space so fast, if only for a few seconds at a time”? Why was this stopping of movement important to Finn?
9. How is Julia’s character defined by the author’s portrayal of her during Finn’s seizure in his living room? What was significant about Finn’s response to her?
10. What drew Finn and Julia together? What does Finn admire most about Julia? What does she admire most about Finn? Discuss how their relationship changes throughout the story.
11. Finn tells the reader, “There was almost nothing about me that wasn’t in his book, that didn’t trap me into being something invented by someone else.” Why does Finn refer to himself as something rather than someone?
12. Compare Finn’s experiences during a blankout with his usual thought processes. Why is this significant in Finn’s understanding of reality in the cosmos? How does Finn respond to his blankouts immediately after they occur? What does this tell you about him?
13. Do you think Finn’s assessments of himself are accurate? To what extent do labels define you? Discuss ways in which you label yourself and ways in which you and your friends label each other. What are the results of doing this?
14. Images of debris, death, collapse, and abandonment are scattered throughout the novel. Explain the author’s use of these images. How do they relate to the concept of the “knackery”?
15. Finn says, “I suppose love, which makes atoms sticky, is also in many ways a prison.” What does Finn mean by this? How does this relate to the author’s use of other images of imprisonment and the desire for release or escape?
16. What is Finn’s reaction to Julia’s shadow play? In what ways does Julia’s shadow play help Finn better understand himself? How does it help Finn better understand Julia?
17. Why did Julia “continue to insist she did not know how her shadow story might end”? Why did this frustrate Finn?
18. Describe the reactions of Cade and Finn during the accident scene. Did Cade and Finn switch roles? How did Finn ultimately grow from this experience? How did Cade?
19. Neither Finn nor Cade stayed at the bridge to receive recognition. What does this reveal about them? How would you have reacted if you witnessed a similar accident? Would you have stayed to receive recognition?
20. Describe Finn’s relationship with his father after the accident. Does he resolve his issues with his father? How does their relationship change?
21. In what ways does Finn find his true identity, rather than some shadow of a pre-scripted character?
Questions for Further Discussion
1. Why do you think Finn’s father chose to name his son after the title character in Mark Twain’s great American classic novel about a boy who leaves home to find himself? Have you ever had to leave to find yourself?
2. Throughout the narrative Finn refers to his best friends using their first and last names. What significance might this have?
3. What does the photo on the inside of the book jacket suggest?
4. What makes Cade eventually decide to read The Lazarus Door? What is his response to the book? What is Finn’s response to learning Cade has read the book?
5. When Finn, Cade, and Julia are together, Julia is often in the background taking photographs of Finn and Cade. Why do you suppose the author portrays Julia in this way?
6. How does learning about Julia’s reason for moving from Chicago impact Finn? How does it impact their relationship?
7. How does the author present the diversity of cultural and racial differences in the novel?
8. What is Laika’s mission in this story?
9. There are several commonly occurring numbers in Finn’s life. How and when do they show up? What is their significance?
10. What’s the significance of Finn’s neighbor, Manuel Castellan, being a former bullfighter? What does Finn’s bullfighter name mean?
11. How are the boy and the dog that Finn rescues from the flooding river important to the story?
Guide written in 2015 by Judith Clifton, Educational Consultant, Chatham, MA
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Andrew Smith is the author of several novels for young adults, including Winger, Stand-Off, 100 Sideways Miles, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Grasshopper Jungle. He lives in a remote area in the mountains of Southern California with his family, two horses, two dogs, and three cats. He doesn’t watch television, and occupies himself by writing, bumping into things outdoors, and taking ten-mile runs on snowy trails.
*"A wickedly witty and offbeat novel...a breathtaking read."
– Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"John Green fans will enjoy Smith’s newest novel."
*" Finn’s musings about the universe’s constant dispersal and recycling of atoms, along with his habit for measuring time in the distance the Earth is forever racing around the sun, provide a memorable perspective on human (in)significance."
– Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed with, cried with, and rooted harder for a character than Finn Easton. His voice is so strong, so real, that his triumphs and failures felt like they were my own. I seriously loved this book."
– Len Vlahos, author of The Scar Boys
Finn Easton has lived his life in the shadow of a book. As a child, Finn was severely injured and his mother killed in a freak accident: a dead horse landed on them when it fell off a truck that was traveling over a bridge. After the accident, his father took many of Finn’s unique characteristics (his name, heterochromatic eyes, propensity to measure time in miles traveled by the Earth in orbit, struggle with epilepsy, and a particular scar along his back) and made them into a character in a Robert Heinlein–esque novel, The Lazarus Door. The novel has attained cult status around the world and made Finn’s life a nightmare. The only person who treats him as though he is not the character in the book is his best friend, Cade Hernandez, the tobacco-chewing, sex-obsessed, teacher-baiting hero to their classmates, beloved for his pitching skills and his ability to get most people—especially girls—to do whatever he wants. Late in their junior year, Julia Bishop moves in and Finn falls in love. She is creative and funny. When she announces that she is moving back home to Chicago shortly after Finn’s birthday, he is heartbroken, but decides to continue with his planned road trip with Cade to Dunston University in Oklahoma, a school they plan to attend unless Cade is drafted by the major leagues or is given an athletic scholarship to another university. The trip is the first time Finn has been out of California or away from home, and Cade helps him cut the cord by throwing away his cell while on the road in Arizona. While driving in a deluge in Oklahoma, they witness an accident and risk their own lives rescuing a little boy, a dog, and a grandfather from a raging river. More than a bit wandering, this will appeal to teens who like novels that with a bit of an absurdist edge.–Suanne B. Roush, formerly at Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
– School Library Journal, July 2014 *STARRED REVIEW
*"This will appeal to teens who like novels that with a bit of an absurdist edge."
– School Library Journal, starred review
"Finn and Cade are a tag team for the ages. No one does male friendship (or vomit and accidental nudity) better than Andrew Smith."
– S.A. Bodeen, author of The Compound
"An unusual and memorable novel."
– Horn Book
*"This unpredictable story of love and friendship is close to perfect."
– Booklist, starred review
"The current of genuine warmth that runs through it ensures multiple revisits and enthusiastic sharing."
– BCCB, starred review
*"A mosaic of recurring motifs, subtle symbolism, wonderfully funny bits, and the best birthday present ever make this a book that repays close attention; the current of genuine warmth that runs through it ensures multiple revisits and enthusiastic sharing."
– BCCB, starred review
"If you're a young boy and a dead horse falls off a bridge, kills your mother, and leaves you with deep scars — and you're prone to epileptic seizures — you'd come to expect the unexpected. Still, it doesn't mean you have to like it. In the shadow of his best friend, the popular and athletic Cade, and forever tied to his fictional namesake in his father's best-selling sci-fi novel, Finn has trouble figuring out who he's supposed to be. Then he meets a new girl and for the first time writes his own story. Hilarious and heartbreaking, you'll be rooting for Finn all the way."
– recommended by Lisa Yee, author, most recently of Warp Speed