Blake Nelson Paranoid Park
180 pp. Speak (Penguin Group) 2006 ISBN: 978-0-14-241156-8
Summary (From Goodreads): It was an accident. He didn’t mean to kill the security guard with his skateboard – it was self-defense. But there’s no one to back up his story. No one even knows he was at Paranoid Park. Should he confess, or can he get away with it? It’s an ethical question no one should have to answer.
Writing more intensely than ever before, Blake Nelson delivers a film noir in book form, complete with interior monologue and dark, psychological drama.
This is a riveting look at one boy’s fall into a world of crime, guilt, and fear – and his desperate attempt to get out again.
I’m always looking for books that appeal to guys, so I bought Paranoid Park after a librarian on Twitter recommended that I read some of Blake Nelson’s books. After looking Blake Nelson up on Goodreads, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of him before. He’s written quite a few books that I now plan on reading. A few that I’d like to read are The New Rules of High School, Genderbender and Destroy All Cars.
Right from the start I liked that the story is told in a series of letters, but to whom we don’t know until the end. Well, we know who they ended up being written to. The death of the security guard happens late in the summer, but the letters are written in January which gives us some insight on what happened to the narrator.
The narrator goes through a series of stages after the security guard is killed. He’s completely shocked and sick to his stomach at first, he tries rationalizing what he’s done, but eventually he ends up completely paranoid. Nelson has written this so well that I felt paranoid for the narrator. Was it going to hit the news? Was Scratch going to rat him out? Is the narrator going to confess? I kept feeling the need to look over my shoulder as I turned the pages. And I didn’t realize this until the end, but we’re never given the narrator’s name. He’s writing these letters and telling his story, but he makes sure he never writes the story in a self-revealing way. (I hope others didn’t realize this about his name too. Otherwise I’m going to feel incredibly unobservant!) It makes me wonder if his brother’s name is really Henry.
The story is simple, but the character development is not. Nelson did a fantastic job of writing the narrator the way he should be written–a very confused, scared, teenage boy. I never felt like I was reading a character that’s supposed to be a teen, but speaks like he’s 30. And I’m not knocking YA authors that write characters like that, but it’s refreshing to read a story with characters speaking like teenagers. I’m working with teens all day, and as much as I wish that they had stronger vocabularies, they don’t always. Teens will appreciate this and the narrator’s character development when they read this book.
This is a difficult review to write and avoid spoilers at the same time. The ending is one of the biggest talking points, and I really look forward to discussing this with my students who choose to read Paranoid Park. Speaking of, I’m positive this will be a hit with my students, the boys especially. Skating is really popular with my students; we even have a skate park down the street from our high school. I’m hoping that connection with the book will spark a bigger interest. Hopefully I’ll be adding this title to my Books Guys Dig page
The reason I gave this four stars is because Nelson’s writing is a bit choppy at times, which bothered me. However, the choppiness fits the narrator’s thoughts because his mind is often racing and scattered. I’m sure this will actually be helpful to my lower-level readers that pick up this book.
If you’re looking for a good quick read, then Paranoid Park is certainly worth your time. Also, the cover of my book says it’s now a movie so I’ll be looking into that.