Notes from the Midnight Driver

Angry about his parents’ impending divorce, 16-year-old Alex gets drunk and smashes his mother’s car. He is sentenced to 100 hours of community service, visiting a cantankerous old man named Sol—a Jewish immigrant from Poland—at a local nursing home.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny, narrated in Alex’s cynical teen voice of exaggeration and bursting with absurd situations. In one sense, the story portrays the dreary side of aging. Sol has emphysema and sometimes needs emergency respiratory therapy. Despite his fluctuating health, Sol is mentally sharp, saucy and thoroughly entertaining. He uses colorful Yiddish expressions and loves to play irreverent “gotcha” jokes, such as pretending not to recognize Alex and screaming to the nurse that there’s a thief in the room. Another time he falsely tells a resident that she’s forgotten to put in her dentures. (To Alex, Sol explains that the residents “need to be kept on their toes.”)
Sol’s relationship with Alex is a wild and bumpy ride. In one of their more telling confrontations, Alex has just heard Sol play incredibly good jazz guitar and asks in astonishment, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Sol bitterly points out that Alex has never asked him a thing about himself or his past; he was a professional jazz guitarist for years. Yet there is a bond of genuine affection between them, which helps both Sol and Alex grow emotionally. Another positive point, rare among teen books about old people, is that Alex gets several other teens involved at the nursing home as well. This book offers real insight in the midst of its hilarity.