By Josie Wold
In this introspective and moving novel in verse, two isolated and misfit teenagers form a desperately needed friendship that helps them survive their dismal home lives and feelings of hopelessness. Bobby seems to accept his sad, lonely existence as he endures an angry, distant, alcohol-abusing dad and schoolmates who bully him because he lives in an old house with a yard full of junk and trash. Then he meets Rachel, a very talented, quirky, passionate gay artist, who is being abused and shamed by her narrow-minded and unloving mother. Though the circumstance of their meeting is awkward and unpleasant, they begin to form a bond based on mutual parental neglect and abuse. This bond, though tenuous at times, saves them both.
With a quick charcoal sketch, Rachel shows Bobby that she sees him as he really is on the inside. And that is what he needs to take action to make his life better. He begins to clean up his yard and fix up an old, abandoned wheelless camper bus that belonged to his long-gone mother. As Rachel’s plans to escape her mom and go away to art school fail, she crashes and is barely saved by Bobby’s heroics and support from a kind local priest. This leads to Bobby’s dad opening up about the tragedies of the past so that their relationship can begin to heal.
If you are looking for realistic YA fiction that is sparse and readable, deals with issues of dysfunctional families, depression and suicide, is LGBTQ+ diverse, and that is both sad and hopeful, Junk Boy would fit the bill. Multiple reviewers agree that it is a good read-alike for Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down. In his Author Notes at the end, Tony Abbott provides words of understanding and support, as well as resources for teens who need help.