Publication Date: November 30, 2016
In Pipeliner by Shaw Hartje, Jason Krabb is a normal high-school kid hating school, stealing money from his mom’s purse and feeling up hams (which he imagines are like breasts) in the grocery store. His goals are to be a rockstar and get a girlfriend. When he goes to a bonfire and meets a girl, his life plans change. As things get difficult at home, how will this boy become a man in 1990s Idaho?
The author sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
Jason Krabb is having a pretty typical high-schooler experience, but like all of us at the time, he thinks of himself as a unique little island of humanity looking for the people who will know his soul … his fellow musicians. Jason is stuck in a life where he doesn’t feel he belongs (again, like all of us at this age). He has a kind of a nebulous idea of where he wants to end up, boning up on artists that he might be expected to know should he actually make it to Portland, Seattle, where he expects to mingle in the music scene. When he meets the girl of his dreams, he changes the way he sees himself as reaching his goal with a new step of becoming a Pipeliner (laying gas pipes) and raking in the money until he has enough to head to Portland, Seattle and join a band. The POV is mostly Jason’s but sometimes shifts to his parents, which gives the reader a perspective on this teenager’s home life. We know, hearing Jason’s perspective, that teenagers, and people in general, rarely have the complete picture of a situation that they think they do. So his parents, Leah and Curtis are necessary, though read as a bit of an odd shift at the moment.
Pipeliner is one of those novels clearly written by a man as the girls in the story are written mostly like boys. An example from the beginning of the book is Isobel who is bullied by the school’s mean girls. The girls push her into lockers and pull her tassels. The girls of this reader’s experience are both more clever to brutally push a girl into lockers or to pull her tassels. Boys are physical, girls will mess up your life. While the bullying of Isobel is but a minor moment in the book, her demeanor and that of the other females are somewhat less than distinguishable from the boys, unless they’re being subjected to a leering eye pointing out their anatomy. The boys aren’t all that discernible from each other either. This isn’t to say that the characters aren’t interesting, but the clearly most developed is our protagonist and it is his story. While sometimes it’s the narration, obviously Jason is a self-interested teenager and we’re hearing about the characters from him, it’s also that the dialogue doesn’t really lead them to stand out.
A lot of the story is the Krabb family experience. For the most part, Jason is the sort of nostalgic free-range kid that many of us experienced, but you don’t really see any more for the very reason; we know what you’re doing if you’re out in the forest in the middle of the night because that’s what we did. While the story is mostly well written and interesting, at times it moves very slow. Jason is well framed and as we get to know his family, his story is clearly a human one and the point is that we are with him at a time that many of us remember well — looking through the tape rack at the truck stop, hating algebra, liking the teachers that give us the answers. There are moments when readers will really love Pipeliner because it’s simply so real. While first books are rarely the best books with laugh-out-loud moments, the ability to set a clear moment in time and the ability to self-edit, I’m expecting great things to come from Hartje. I think anyone who grew up in small-town Idaho in the 1990s will find Pipeliner a must-read.
If you’re a 1990s kid or love a good coming-of-age story, pick Pipeliner up today.
Read an excerpt and buy Pipeliner by Shaw Hartje on