Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: Evel Knievel Days

Summary: From the critically-acclaimed author of Red Weather comes a heartwarming, witty story of immigration and belonging, false starts and new beginnings, and finding out what home truly means

Khosi Saqr has always felt a bit out of place in Butte, Montana, hometown of motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel.  Half-Egyptian, full of nervous habits, raised by a single mother, owner of a name that no one can pronounce -- Khosi has never quite managed to fit in. But when a mysterious stranger arrives in town (and Khosi's longtime love uses Butte's annual festival, Evel Knievel Days, as a time to announce her impending marriage to someone else), Khosi takes his first daredevil like risk, and travels to Egypt to find his father -- and a connection to his heritage. 

What he discovers, in Cairo, is much more startling than he'd imagined it could be. The city is a thrilling mix of contradictions -- and locating his father turns out to be the easy part. Through mistaken identity, delicious food, and near tragedy, Khosi and his parents rediscover what it means to be connected to each other, to a family, and to a culture.

The timely story of a young man searching for his roots, and along the way finding his identity, Evel Knievel Days is Khosi’s charming and funny journey to learn where he came from, and who he is. - -Crown

I haven't heard a lot around the blogosphere about the new novel EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS by Pauls Toutonghi, and frankly, that surprises me. Maybe the title or the cover isn't drawing people in like some of the other "big" summer books, or maybe it's because the author isn't a household name, but let me assure you that this novel is one that you don't want to miss. It's both heartwarming and very funny, and I thought it was a wonderful read!

EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS tells the story of Khosi, a man in his early twenties who lives in Butte, Montana, but doesn't really fit in. Khosi is a little unusual -- he still lives with his mother (his father deserted then when he was a toddler), has few friends, works at Butte's Copper King Museum (he is the great great grandsom of William Andrews Clark), is probably suffering from OCD, and is in love with his best friend; however, it's his half-Egyptian ancestry that really makes him feel like an outsider.

During the annual Evel Knievel Days which take place every year in Butte, a few events occur which cause Khosi to rethink his entire life. A stranger arrives in town which gets Khosi pondering about his father and his Egyptian heritage. In addition, his "best friend" tells him that she's getting married... right after they finally have a romantic encounter. Khosi must find some inspiration from Knievel's daredevil ways because he decides to drop everything and travel to Egypt to meet his father. (Note: This behavior is very out-of-sorts for Khosi.)

Khosi arrives in Cairo and quickly discovers that life in this city is very different from life in Butte. He experiences the sights and sounds and tastes of Cairo -- which are pretty cool, and he also locates his father and his family; however, it's the surprises along the way that really teach him the most. After a very serious illness, Khosi learns the true meaning of family and his Egyptian culture, and he also sees how he fits into the entire equation.

I adored EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS from the very first few pages, and there really is so much good about this book. One of the main reasons for my love affair with this novel was the character of Khosi. EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS is really Khosi's coming-of-age story (even though he's in his early 20s), and I thought he was an amazing narrator. Khosi was a pretty quirky character with a very unique voice, and his insights into life (especially his own) were absolutely hilarious. He managed to be both naive at times as well as sarcastic; and I found myself rooting for him.

Another fantastic thing about this novel was the story itself. I am always a sucker for coming-of-age stories because I love to see just how much a character can change over the course of a novel. EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS was a wonderful example of everything I love about these types of books. I was so proud of Khosi to leave his comfort zone and travel half-way around the world to meet his father; and I was very satisfied with what Khosi not only discovered about his parents and his extended family, but also himself.

I also appreciated that much of the story took place in another country with a very different culture. I am always drawn to book about foreign cultures, and I enjoyed that much of EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS took place in Cairo. I loved all of the descriptions of Cairo and its people, and I had no problems visualizing the chaos (and wonder) of this city. I especially appreciated seeing Khosi's reaction to all of the excitement!

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book tugged on my heartstrings. I honestly wasn't expecting to feel this way; however, Khosi and his entire family managed to become so real to me and I found myself caring about them a great deal. EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS reminded me of the value of knowing where we come from so we can know who we are. In addition, this novel showed the importance of families and how special it is to be part of one -- even when the family might be a little odd!

I do think EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS would make for a fun book club discussion, but I wasn't able to find a formal guide. Don't let that deter you though from considering this book for your next meeting. There are many universal themes in this novel including family dynamics, love, loss, secrets, risks, and discovering one's true self.

As far as I'm concerned, EVEL KNIEVEL DAYS was one of my favorite summer reads. Highly recommended for fans of coming-of-age stories as well as for fans of books that look at complex family relationships.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Serena said...

This sounds very interesting...maybe it is the title...I'm not really big into Evel Knievel! I like the cover though given what you say about it being in Egypt, etc.

bermudaonion said...

I think it might be the title as well. I know I want to read it after your review - I can tell you loved it!

Karlie said...

The title actually piqued my interest. This sounds like a book that I would love. If only I could catch up with all my reading!

Beth Hoffman said...

Until your post I'd not heard a word about this book, and if I had, I seriously doubt I would have given it a thought. But your review has me quite interested!

Gayle Weiswasser said...

This has been on my TBR list for weeks - my blog even says that I am 'now reading' it. I will definitely start it now that I have read your review!