BRIAN MEEHL and Billy Allbright have something in common. They've both ridden zigzag trails. Meehl's first zig was puppeteering on "Sesame Street." Then he zagged to writing for kids' television and picked up three Emmys along the way. He is also the author of the hilarious and inventive "Out of Patience" and "Suck It Up." Living 250 yards from where Mark Twain died 100 years ago, Meehl has a chronic fear of the Master appearing and intoning, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated, as well as your authorial skills. I recommend a swift retreat to puppeteering."
Gr 8-10-Billy Allbright, 16, has spent most of his life on the road with his mother as self-proclaimed members of the "New J-Brigade," an itinerant Christian organization of two bent on "playing Whac-a-Mole with the devil." Itching to attend a real high school, Billy plans to petition his mother for more freedom when he receives a mysterious package from the father he had been told was dead. It contains a fancy Bible; hidden in it are a DVD and the first pages of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The DVD is of Billy's father, who, speaking from his deathbed, invites his son to geocache across the country in search of a valuable unpublished novel by Mark Twain, so Billy sets off to follow his father's clues wherever they might lead. En route, he forms an unexpected partnership with a black professional baseball player grappling with his decision to come out, who agrees to chauffeur the teen on his scavenger hunt if the boy agrees to read Huck Finn aloud to him. Although united by their Christianity, Ruah's theology is more liberal than Billy's, and the two clash over Ruah's sexuality and philosophy, occasionally separating them but always meeting back up again. This road-trip story is not representative of traditional Christianity as Ruah's more liberal interpretations of the Bible ("God is greater than any sin I can commit, even if it's being gay.") are favored here. Meehl's novel is a slow starter but is good-hearted and, though the story suffers from its characters' belabored exegesis of Huck Finn and the Bible, the pace picks up as it nears its conclusion.-Amy S. Pattee, Simmons College, Boston (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, March 14, 2011: "Meehl doesn't pull any punches as his characters undergo their own journeys to freedom in this powerful, intelligent tale."