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The Porcupine of Truth

Review

The Porcupine of Truth

In his third novel, Bill Konigsberg blends humor with serious considerations of religion, spirituality and sexual identity, all in the context of an epic and life-changing road trip.
Who doesn't like a good road-trip novel, especially one that's full of zany imagery, eccentric secondary characters and plenty of roadside humor? With THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH, Bill Konigsberg has delivered a winner of a road-trip novel, one whose combination of humor and philosophical exploration will remind some readers of Andrew Smith's 100 SIDEWAYS MILES or Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE. 
 
Carson Smith is more than a little annoyed at having been plucked from his beloved New York City for the summer and plunked down in Bilings, Montana, in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged, alcoholic father, who's now dying of cirrhosis. Just seeing his dad makes Carson angry and sad, and Carson's therapist mother isn't very good at connecting with her son, either, except through psychotherapy-speak. 
Bill Konigsberg has delivered a winner of a road-trip novel, one whose combination of humor and philosophical exploration will remind some readers of Andrew Smith's 100 SIDEWAYS MILES or Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE. 
His mother's desperate decision to drop Carson off at the nearly abandoned local zoo for an afternoon, while lame at first, winds up being the best choice she could have made. For it’s there that Carson encounters Aisha, the most beautiful girl he's ever seen --- who also happens to be smart and funny and who laughs at Carson's jokes, too. At first, when Aisha is friendly toward Carson, he thinks that this might be his chance to finally have a girlfriend --- and a gorgeous one at that. But when Aisha confesses that she's actually living in the park because her dad threw her out of the house for being a lesbian, Carson settles for just being her friend (with perhaps a little fantasizing on the side). 
 
After Carson's family takes Aisha in, a casual exploration of some waterlogged boxes in the musty old basement seems to uncover a mystery about Carson's grandfather, who abandoned Carson's dad and grandmother when Carson's dad was still a kid. No one ever talks about that part of their family history, but now that Carson's dad is dying, his mind keeps turning to that earlier abandonment and what it meant for the rest of his life. So, in an attempt to find closure for his dad (and maybe also just to get out of town for a few days), Carson and Aisha follow the few clues they have, hoping to find Carson's grandpa, or at least some answers. 
 
Along the way, the two share an investigation of spirituality, religious institutions, sexual identity, gay history and really bad puns. Adults reading THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH might be surprised at the emotional heft of the truth about Carson's grandfather; younger readers will be drawn into a moment in recent history that has, sadly, fallen out of many younger people's consciousness. Some readers may be taken aback by the overwhelming portrayal of conventional religion; thoughtful readers, however, will see this as part of a more nuanced and overall positive exploration of spirituality in all its forms. THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH asks its characters and readers to embrace difference --- even weirdness --- and to find opportunities for genuine connection with others and with themselves.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 5, 2015

The Porcupine of Truth
by Bill Konigsberg