For me, Dean Duffy is the quintessential young adult novel from the 1990s. Published in 1995, it followed another tone perfect book by the same author, Is Kissing A Girl Who Smoes Like Licking an Ashtray? from 1992. Both books are set in and around Seattle and feature an 18 year old male character in limbo. Post high school. Before college. Trying to make decisions about their lives, about their future, their purpose in life, their self worth. Driving around, sometimes aimlessly, Powell’s stories are set on these quiet moments when his characters are at a crossroads. He is not afraid to introduce characters who are broken or jaded by life. His characters waver on the edge - will they become great or disappointments to themselves?
Dean Duffy, as the title (the character’s name) implies is a character study. Dean is an athlete and the story is focused on his decision whether or not to continue with a career in baseball. Randy Powell writes eloquently and his books, like previous sports writers for Young Adults like John R. Tunis, his books are easy to read and immediately inviting. What makes Powell’s book different is there is little play by play action. Actually, not a single game takes place in Dean Duffy even though this could be considered a baseball themed book. I’m not so much interested in baseball, in general, so it takes the skill of a great writer to immediately get me hooked on a character who finds baseball to be an obsession. Randy Powell is such a writer. He writes without irony and every character he writes is one that he seems to have some sincere affection for.
How to describe the events of this book? Dean meets an old friend, who has become a stoner. Dean falls in love with a barista who turns out to be a high school dropout and a single mother. Dean tries to recover from a two year baseball slump and tries to decide if he has what it takes. Any brief description certainly seems too simple for what Powell had in mind.
The book provides more questions than it does answers and in doing so, it is one of the most honest examples of YA fiction that I have ever read. I love this book. Read it.