Lance Hendricks is homeward bound, four hundred highway miles from the best night of his life. There’s an epic graduation party brewing, his girlfriend will be there, and they’ve got a private bedroom with their names on it. When his ’93 Buick breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Lance is sure he’ll be back on the road in no time. After all, he’s the high school valedictorian. First chair trumpet player. Scholarship winner. Nothing can stop Lance Hendricks. But afternoon turns to night, and Lance ends up stranded at the Trainsong Motel. The place feels ominous, even before there’s a terrible car wreck outside his room. When Lance rushes out to help, the townies take notice. They call him Wildman, and an intriguing local girl asks him to join in their nighttime adventures. He begins to live up to his new name. As one day blurs into the next, Lance finds himself in a bar fight, jumping a train, avoiding the police. Drifting farther from home and closer to a girl who makes him feel a way he’s never felt before—like himself. This debut novel by a remarkable new talent explores the relationship between identity and place, the power of being seen, and the speed at which a well-planned life can change forever.
J.C. Geiger’s writing style is really fun. I love the way he describes the simplest details, such as a speedometer needle, with irony, sarcasm, and a bit of magic. This technique and Geiger’s mastery of language reminds me of John Green’s writing, particularly in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. However, Geiger’s tone is a little less sardonic than Green’s, which makes the characters feel like everyday people. We all, along the way, will meet a Breanna, a Dakota, and a Stone. Geiger, however, has painted them so vibrantly and with multiple layers of nuance that they finally have the opportunity to be understood.
The themes of this novel include following your heart, doing the unpredictable, and learning that what you need most can come from unexpected places. This message is crucial for teenagers transitioning to college, but it is also relevant for anyone of any age. The book tells us not to accept the narrative we are given. In other words, just because someone thinks we are smart, stupid, pretty, or ugly, does not mean that it is true. We must forge our own paths and be honest with ourselves as making “safe” and expected choices will not bring us closer to our goals. Geiger himself has “eaten the beating heart of a snake, been deported from a full-moon party, and spent a short time locked in a Bolivan prison.” He has been out there living, and through his character, Lance, he will encourage many readers to do the same.
WILDMAN is an incredible novel, chalk full of life lessons and heart. Fans of John Green will rejoice over J.C. Geiger, but if Geiger is anything like he seems, he will have no trouble carving out his own unique space in the literary world.