Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson Book Review

I’ve said in past reviews I’m not a fan of short stories, because they tend to not be long enough to have us fully understand and love the characters, and if we do end up growing to like them, their time with us is over too fast. But I only say that to stories so tiny they wasted potential. Paranoid Park is not like that.

Paranoid Park was a first for me, in that we never find out the protagonist’s name. I’m not kidding. The description only refers to him as a Prep. You see, he’s friends with a troublemaking skateboarder named Jared, and he has a new girlfriend named Jennifer (the narrator, not Jared). Paranoid Park is not the official name for a big skating park in the shady part of the city but everyone who hangs around there calls it that. It’s so much cooler than any relegated skate parks at malls. One day, our hero decides to head down there. Jared had other plans so he goes alone. Someone named Scratch convinces him to try out train hitching. He decides to let loose and do something daring. Big mistake.

Some kind of guard spots him and goes berserk. Why we don’t know. But he attacks our hero and the others and there’s no indication he will show mercy or that he won’t kill them. When he goes to strangle Scratch, he manages to hit him hard enough through the head with the tip of his skateboard, and he falls into train tracks as an oncoming train splits and crushes his body. Our prep runs off, bewildered, terrified, never wanting to skate again, and nervous when the police come knocking, his whole life is over even though it wasn’t his fault.

I got this as a Christmas present from my uncle. He saw it in an independent bookstore he lives near and thought it looked cool. There’s also a Gus Van Sant movie it was made into, and from the trailer it looks like a refreshingly independent unpretentious one. Our hero goes through a mental breakdown as he can’t figure out what he’s going to do and what could happen to him in the worst-case scenario of the disaster. He’s not as into boarding anymore, and I can imagine anyone being reluctant to keep doing something they’ve always been devoted to their whole life if it causes their whole life to potentially be destroyed. He also doesn’t feel as lucky with his girlfriend Jennifer anymore.

The movie has a small few chapters, each one displaying a day, with DEAR _______, like a diary except what’s being written down is being addressed to someone, and we’re not supposed to know who. And it doesn’t cross our mind most of the time that it must be someone our hero wants to spill the beans to, but we’re not sure if it’s ever going to be delivered. When all is said and done, it has the grounds for a very small book, which it is, with no protagonist name and caring a lot more about the one instance rather than much else.

A fast read that makes you really not want the hero sent away, Paranoid Park gets the job done of displaying what happens to someone whose life is not completely wrecked by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but is threatened to be.

If you like this, I’d try Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith and The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

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