Stoner & Spaz
by Ron Koertge
You have to love Ben Bancroft. He is 16 years old with cerebral palsy, his mother abandoned him, his father may have committed suicide, and his grandmother dresses him in preppy clothes. But he has a killer sense of humor, honed in the last dark rows of the Rialto Theatre in Los Angeles, and refers to himself as “spaz.” By page four, he has bumped into Colleen Mintou; “Everybody at King High School knows Colleen. At least, everybody who wants weed.” Plus, she looks like Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club. It’s Monster Week at the Rialto, and Colleen thought The Wolf Man was playing, but it’s Bride of Frankenstein. She nods off with her head on Ben’s shoulder. No girl has ever put her head on his shoulder. With these tenuous beginnings, they form a most unlikely bond, breaking all the barriers of cliques and high school’s guides to cool behavior. They widen each other’s experiences, send Ben’s grandmother into a tizzy (“What a horrible girl,… I didn’t realize you even knew people like that”), and tell each other the truth. Even the adults are fully realized characters: Grandma, for all of her obsession with propriety, does everything she can for her grandson, and Marcie, the new neighbor across the street, encourages Ben’s own inclinations toward filmmaking. Koertge possesses an ear for dialogue and a knack for getting to the heart of a relationship in a sentence or two. As Ben leaves a note on his way to go dancing with Colleen, he thinks, “This is the plan Grandma and I made: if I’m ever out late, I have to call or leave a note. We talked about it like I was a regular kid, with regular arms and legs. A kid with buddies or a girlfriend… And we both knew it would never happen.” But it did. And that’s why the book is about so much more than sex or drugs or great lines from classic movies (which Ben quotes constantly). It’s about what it means to be fully alive and to meet someone who helps us realize that we’re so much more than we thought we were.