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Not Just for Kids: 'Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick'

A middle-class teen becomes enmeshed with a Lithuanian assassin in Joe Schreiber's laugh-out-loud, young-adult debut.

November 06, 2011|By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

A Novel

Joe Schreiber

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 192 pp., $16.99, ages 12 and up

When Perry Stormaire learned his family would be hosting a Lithuanian exchange student during his senior year of high school, he immediately imagined "some chic Mediterranean lioness with half-lidded eyes, fully upholstered lips, curves like a European sports car, and legs of a swimsuit model who would tutor me with her feminine wiles."

The reality of Gobi Zaksauskas was a woman who wasn't much taller than his kid sister, "her face all but disappeared behind massive industrial-grade blackhorn-rims" with "pasty, instant-mashed-potato skin."

So begins Joe Schreiber's laugh-out-loud, young-adult debut, "Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick" — a book that plays its opposites-repel premise to the hilt in a high-stakes adventure story that reads like a runaway train. Delightfully, nothing is as it appears in "Au Revoir," especially Gobi, whom Perry successfully avoided for nine months until his mother forced him to take their houseguest to the prom. The following 152 pages are devoted to what happens over the course of that long night — after Gobi shows up at their Connecticut high school wearing a traditional Lithuanian ceremonial costume, complete with kerchief.

Gobi pummels a classmate for insulting her, then hitches a ride with Perry in his dad's prized Jag. The unlikely couple then head to a New York City nightclub, where Gobi strips down to a little black dress, transforming into the Mediterranean lioness of Perry's dreams — and revealing her true mission in coming to the U.S.

She's a trained assassin with a mission that will take her to targets scattered around Manhattan, including the high rise where Perry's dad is hoping to make partner at a top law firm. Perry is Gobi's reluctant chauffeur, helming his dad's increasingly bruised luxury sedan.

Schreiber has an affection for the outrageous and the absurd, and he mines that combination for all it's worth, similar to bestselling young-adult author Libba Bray. Schreiber clearly delights in the comedic possibilities of the apocryphal and the insecurities of the teen male psyche.

"Au Revoir" is told from Perry's slack-jawed point of view in chapters that are titled with, and riff on, real essay questions from American universities. The title of the prologue, for instance, cribs an essay question from Harvard: Describe a significant experience or achievement and the effect that it had on you. The entirety of "Au Revoir" serves as the answer. Until prom night, Perry was a middle-class teen growing up in the pressure cooker of a success-oriented family, suppressing his real aspirations to swim competitively and play in a rock band in favor of his parents' Ivy League dreams.

Paired with Gobi, he's an unwilling risk taker — and a punching bag. Gobi regularly lobs Lithuanian expletives about Perry's masculinity, which he answers with age-appropriate defensiveness and imaginative descriptions of the outrageously ludicrous scenarios he's dragged into. Schreiber amplifies the action of this fast-paced comedic noir thriller by ending each short chapter with didn't-see-that-coming cliffhangers — including the end of "Au Revoir," which sets the stage for what is likely to be even more wild adventures in its sequel, "Perry's European Playlist," which will be published next fall.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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