Courtesy of Smash Attack ReadsFirst Impressions: "Our brother fell apart in the war.Mother fell apart after that.Then we had to leave." Wow. This book opens up on a bleak scenario. Simon and Jonah are up shits creek, so to speak. Ma is gone, dad is incarcerated, older brother, Matthew, is in Vietnam fighting for his country. These two are as poor as dirt and Jonah has decided it is time to leave and find their father. They set out with $10 in their pocket, some tattered clothes and Matthew's letters. The journey they endure is hellish beyond comprehension and their bond is tested to the limit.Characters: The characterization in this novel is out of this world. Simon and Jonah experience tension, as do any siblings, but their bond is strong due to their life experiences. Simon is the youngest. Jonah and Matthew have a special relationship, which you experience via letters from Matthew. I feel Simon was protected from reality and possibly felt isolated. There may have been some attachment issues too, since mom was MIA most of the time and dad in jail.Due to these circumstances, I think Simon easily connected with Mitch, the man who picks these two young boys up on the side of the road and offers them a ride to Arizona. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Mitch is a master manipulator and psychopath of epic proportions. Mitch's passenger, Lilly, is a young pregnant woman who is also on her way to a specific location. She brings great conflict to this odd quartet, and you are never quite sure if she is trustworthy. Mitch is incredibly fascinating for someone like me. He likely had antisocial personality disorder and was obsessed with Lilly, as seen by his serious jealousy when she shows some interest in Jonah.Matthew, who we only meet via his letters from the war, was likely the most incredible piece of this story. His letters start out happy, engaging, purposeful. But as the story progresses, his letter become increasingly depressing, anxious and a little psychotic. You can literally feel the war slowly killing this healthy, vibrant young man, and it was hard to swallow. Matthew's descent into madness parallels the tragic trek that Jonah and Simon endure, and it so. well. done. This connection is creepy and sad as hell.World-Building: The world-building occurs on the road, as the quartet from hell take off a journey that leaves a path of death and destruction. A few new characters are introduced that add to the richness of the environment and situation. The narration jumps around the characters, so we get many different perspectives. Mitch's chapters were the most disturbing. As he slowly becomes less lucid and more insane in the membrane, you will experience chills down your spine! As I stated above, the letters from Matthew were short but such a creative, powerful, and important aspect to the story.Lasting Impressions: There is no doubt that this book will stay with you. It's gritty, disturbing and emotional, but it also brings about hope. Andrew Smith gets under your skin and provides you with an experience. I truly find him to be an exceptional storyteller.Favorite Scene:I pictured the first time we saw the girl, breezing past us in that Lincoln, blond hair whirling around her, her glasses tipped down, her smile, the stroke of her fingers. The teasing.Simon tumbled the meteorite around in the sweat of his hand. I wondered what it would be like to look down at the earth, to fall, to burn brilliantly in the air like the image of the girl who passed by, kicking back dust like cosmic ash, and could she see that, now; was she up there above us?I wondered.We closed our eyes.