The Summer of Kicks by Dave Hackett

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An accidental band. A record store. A pair of shoes and two perfect girls. This is going to be one hell of a summer.

Starrphyre is your average dorky 16-year-old, although with one difference. He has a very weird girly name, thanks to his hippy parents – a live-to-air radio sex therapist mum and a bass player dad from a tragic one-hit-wonder 80s metal band.

A long hot summer stretches ahead of Starrphyre and all he wants is one date with his dream girl, Candace McAllister. But how can he get her to notice him when she’s the star of every other high-school guys’ fantasies? Perhaps starting a band with his video-game obsessed pals will do the trick …

I found Summer of Kicks reminiscent of King Dork by Frank Portman and Don't Call Me Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer. The narration is quick-paced, loaded with jokes and one-liners, and Starrphyre is an endearingly dorky protagonist (who at times behaves terribly, if realistically, which is frustrating - I think that's a difficult balance to find, constructing a character who is realistically flawed but remains likeable, and I think the more you can relate to Starrphyre's profound awkwardness/struggle to figure girls/life/anything out, the more you'll enjoy this novel).

I think it's a novel you're going to love if you like a bit of absurdity - an extraordinary amount of coincidence, and some unbelievably out-there characters (a sex therapist mum who talks about her son's love life on the radio, a seemingly-intelligent older sister who for some reason tolerates the most horrifically awful boyfriend of all time - The Tool is hysterical in his awfulness) - and I think the novel's strengths lie in the ludicrous and the hilarious. The scenes involving the band - which never really comes to fruition (which reminded me of all of my aspirations as a kid of wanting to be a rockstar and forming bands for a week with friends, until we disbanded upon us realising none of us really played any instruments) - were some of the funniest, centred around the very important task of deciding on a band name (my favourite was Bingo Death Cage. That, or Empire of Gandalf). Starrphyre becoming an accidental YouTube sensation was also very amusing, and a super-condensed and disaster-laden performance of the musical Grease. Other characters who were highlights: record-store owner Sean-pronounced-Scene, the aforementioned Tool, Starrphyre's psychic nan and former rockstar dad and hilarious/terrible mum, and Polar Fleece Reece. Who has a terrific name.

I think this novel is very strong comically and is charmingly romantic and captures the awkwardness of being sixteen really well, but we also get a bit of more serious subject matter/weighty issues Starrphyre has to confront. It felt like there wasn't a lot of room for that to be fully explored in this novel (a lot of terrible things happen all at once), but I think there's a real multi-dimensionality (don't know if that's a word, let's pretend it is) there, so I'm looking forward to what Hackett's future novels have in store.

The Summer of Kicks is silly and fun and romantic, and a novel I think a lot of young teenage readers of all genders will enjoy - it captures the terror/euphoria of youth very authentically.

The Summer of Kicks on the publisher's website
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