Book Review 2007-005
Hick by Andrea Portes
2007 by Unbridled Books 245 pages
(Uncorrected Proof supplied by Unbridled Books)
In her debut novel, Hick, Andrea Portes gives us, Luli McMullen, a 13 year-old girl from Lancaster, Nebraska, who has seen enough, and been, at the very least, disappointed by enough, to have developed a great set of survival skills.
Portes starts the novel off right where you’d expect a 13 year-old to be narrating from, the local bar. Doing so allows her to have Luli show her voice right from the beginning – discussing her mother:
“And the shoes, the shoes are the crowning glory, the angel on top of the tinsel tree, yellow plastic mules with a flower etched on the strap, just above her chipped pink toe-berries. My mama’s littlest toe looks like a shrimp. She’s half in the bag and not caring about bra strap showing or big brass laughing or acting slutty.”
Luli thinks and speaks like this throughout the novel, just a shade less confident and humorous than a private eye in some of the better series shelved in the mystery section.
This particular evening leads to Luli being driven home by the bartender after a parking lot dust-up between her parents. The next morning has mom getting up and driving off with an insurance agent and dad driving off in the opposite direction upon hearing the news. Left to her own devices, Luli decides it is time to head off to Vegas to find herself a sugar daddy and a better life.
Not too surprisingly, Luli finds trouble along her travels – beginning with the first person who picks her up, Eddie Kreezer, a young man with a bit of a violent streak. One wisecrack too many from Luli gets her kicked out of the car in the middle of the night. She decides to sleep in a ditch, where she is later awakened (in a pretty rude manner) by an older woman, Glenda.
Luli begins traveling with Glenda and falls under her spell of seeming success – she’s pretty, independent, doing what she wants, and saying what she wants. A much better role model, in Luli’s mind, than mom was. It becomes apparent to Luli and the reader within an hour or so of their meeting, that Glenda and Eddie have met. This knowledge of each other helps spur the story forward as Luli wants both to be like Glenda, and with Eddie.
From the time Luli walks off her property through to the end of the novel, Portes gives us a combination of road novel with coming of age work. She blends the two seamlessly as Luli grows up in front of the reader, beginning to explore her own sexuality and the power that this entails, while at the same time, going through some of the traditional road trip scenarios – meeting new people, getting in troublesome situations, etc. The thing Portes does extremely well is give Luli this ability to survive, no matter what is thrown her way, and plenty is thrown her way – and frequently brought upon by her own actions, reminding the reader again and again that she is only 13. This is also where the writing of Portes shines. While only 13, Luli almost forces herself to step outside her body and simply be a witness to events that are occurring. Throughout, she holds onto a ‘this will pass’ sort of mantra, and it is entirely believable.
Portes has created a character that the reader cannot help but root for, even when knowing she is taking a mis-step or two (or more). The fact that Portes did so, while allowing said character to have a wit, and a nose for interesting situations, helps the pages fly by. It’s an exceptional debut effort and hopefully the beginning of a great career.