Yesterday I had a great time reading many of your Top Tens about authors whose work you automatically buy. I started to think of how many authors my husband and I feel that way about by looking at our book shelves. My husband feels that way about only two (fiction) authors: Hilary Mantel and Michael Chabon. He’ll read anything either of them writes. In fact, I’m pretty sure if Hilary Mantel were a couple of decades younger, she’d be on his mythical “Hall Pass” list. As for me, I was a Lit major, so there are several authors whose books I’ll buy even if I don’t know anything about them, especially in the world of YA, since most young adult authors I read have written less than a dozen books. It’s easy to read their entire oeuvre.
That made me think of authors I feel are under-appreciated or whose books I enjoyed but no one ever seems to have heard of them. Today I’m paying tribute to one of these authors: Ron Koertge.
I first came across Ron Koertge’s books in early 2011 when I saw the title “Stoner & Spaz” at the library. What a great title, I thought, so I picked it up, checked it out, went home, and read it in one sitting. The protagonist Ben, who has cerebral palsy, is a cinephile who loves watching old movies at the local historical movie theater. I loved how real, how heartbreakingly lonely Ben was, and hoe much compassion he had for a girl for whom most of his classmates held only judgment and disdain.
For sixteen-year-old Ben Bancroft — a kid with cerebral palsy, no parents, and an overprotective grandmother — the closest thing to happiness is hunkering alone in the back of the Rialto Theatre and watching Bride of Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. The last person he wants to run into is drugged-up Colleen Minou, resplendent in ripped tights, neon miniskirt, and an impressive array of tattoos. But when Colleen climbs into the seat beside him and rests a woozy head on his shoulder, Ben has that unmistakable feeling that his life is about to change. With unsparing humor and a keen flair for dialogue, Ron Koertge captures the rare repartee between two lonely teenagers on opposite sides of the social divide. His smart, self-deprecating protagonist learns that kindred spirits may be found for the looking — and that the resolve to follow your passion can be strengthened by something as simple as a human touch.
After reading “Stoner & Spaz,” I read every Koertge book the library stocked, from “Margaux with an X” and “Deadville” to “Strays” and “Confess-O-Rama.” Last year I realized he’d released a sequel to “Stoner & Spaz” called “Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz 2.” Koertge’s books are firmly about underdogs. Whether it’s kids with disabilities like Ben or addictions like Colleen or generally damaged family situations (like most of his protagonists), his books explore what it’s like to be on the fringes through adolescence. Even Margaux, who is undeniably the most beautiful girl in her high school, has a whole host of issues about her beauty, everyone’s superficial interest in her, and how easy it is for her to manipulate others because of that beauty.
If you haven’t given one of his books a try, please give Ron Koertge a chance. His books are a quick but satisfying read with an emotional punch and a unique perspective on what it means to be different.