The Story Behind the Story | Available August 12, 2014
When Paul Carpetti discovers “On the Road” in Greenwich Village while on a class trip to New York City, the world suddenly cracks open and he sees that life could be more than the college degree his mother is determined for him to achieve, a good job and, eventually, marriage to his girlfriend, Kathy. But upon his return, his mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer and his world falls apart.
Set in 1964, “Looking for Jack Kerouac” tells the story of how Paul’s dreams of a different life and his grief at the loss of his mother set him on a road trip with his rowdy friend, Duke, that includes a wild night on Music Row in Nashville, an all-too-real glimpse of glimpse of racism; and an encounter with a voluptuous mermaid named Lorelei – landing him in St. Petersburg, where he finds real friendship and, in time, Jack Kerouac. By then a ruined man, living with his mother, Kerouac is nothing like the person Paul has traveled so far to meet.
Yet, in the end, it is Kerouac who gives him the key that opens up the next phase of his life.
In this strong work of historical fiction set in the 1960s, Paul feels understood for the first time after finding a copy of On the Road during a high school trip to New York City: “Like the book knew who I was, knew what I wanted, and was speaking back to me somehow.” Paul’s mother’s unexpected death upsets his determination to break from his girlfriend’s dreams of marriage, until Duke, a fellow Kerouac devotee, entices him on a road trip to Florida to find their hero. Shoup (Wish You Were Here) creates full-fleshed characters filled with yearning, both those Paul leaves behind and those he meets on his journey. Changes in music, politics, race relations, and attitudes toward Vietnam illuminate the volatile era, rendering Paul’s sense of loss and longing both symptomatic of his era and timeless: “Would it ever stop, I wondered—this constant plummeting backward to that lost time, the happiness, the small comforts and promises I used to take for granted?” A relatable protagonist managing a delicate balance between uncomfortable realities and fertile possibilities makes for a memorable, mature coming-of-age story. Ages 14–up. Agent: David Bennett, Transatlantic Agency. (Aug.)
"In this strong work of historical fiction set in the 1960s, Paul feels understood for the first time after finding a copy of On the Road during a high school trip to New York City...A relatable protagonist managing a delicate balance between uncomfortable realities and fertile possibilities makes for a memorable, mature coming-of-age story."
—Starred review, Publishers Weekly
"Part homage and part reflection, this novel takes the Zeitgeist of the Beat generation that Kerouac helped to create and looks at it with a fresh pair of eyes...compelling coming-of-age tale for high school students looking towards the “great unknown” looming after graduation."
—Mackin Books in Bloom
"Like Kerouac's own writing, Barbara Shoup's new book "Looking for Jack Kerouac" brings you right into his world and gives the reader a chance to spend time with him. Shoup's portrayal of Kerouac is astonishingly real and provides a whole fresh look of what it was like for those few of us left who spent time with him. Like Kerouac, she is a masterful story teller."
—David Amram, author of Off Beat: Collaborating with Kerouac
"Barbara Shoup's "Looking for Jack Kerouac" brings alive the magic of the man who created The Beat Generation and dramatizes his perennial appeal to youth!"
—Dan Wakefield, author of New York in the Fifties
"After his mother dies, Paul takes off to hunt down the one person with whom he connects– the hipster author, Jack Kerouac. On the road, Paul encounters truckers and even mermaids in this odyssey about first love, grief, baseball and breaking away. Shoup gifts thinking teens with a powerful journey towards self-discovery. This is the real thing."
—Margaret McMullan, author of Sources of Light and How I Found the Strong
© Barbara Shoup 2012