In the past, I've been a fan of Jordan Sonnenblick's novels. Curveball... Notes from the Midnight Driver... These books are the perfect combination of hilarious and heartfelt, real and ridiculous, and sporting a cast of characters that are well-rounded and easy to relate to. Unfortunately, the author's latest offering, Are You Experienced, missed the mark.
At first, I was elated to learn this new novel was set at Woodstock. I'm a huge fan of classic rock, and the time period of peace and love has always held a particular fascination for me. Then I heard the story also had a time travel twist. Time travel is a literary aspect that is extremely difficult to write about without sounding completely cliche. Still, I was intrigued...
The premise of Are You Experienced is as follows: Richard, a teen boy whose parents (dad in particular) are so strict he can't even chew gum, discovers an antique guitar in his father's office. A guitar signed by none other than the Late, Great Jimi Hendrix. Of course he tries it out...and is mysteriously and magically transported to Woodstock, where he meets his 15-year-old father, his uncle (who died of a drug overdose), and his uncle's "hot" girlfriend. Yes, it sounds a little Back to the Future. But I love Back to the Future. Richad MUST have been sent back for an important reason! Perhaps even to save his uncle? Sounds like it could be awesome, right?
Are You Experienced read more like the author's fantasy than an actual, fully-fleshed-out story. The characters (who were cliches of hippie teens) were flat, uninspired, and spent most of the time listening to music and "tripping out" on various illicit substances. Dialogue was all over the place. Sometimes they spoke like groovy 60's kids, and other times like modern-day teens. The setting (rain, mud, people getting high and dancing around, mentions of various bands that performed) was also vague, like something gleaned from looking at old photos. Didn't even try to put me, the reader, in the story. Telling instead of showing. There was, really, no sense of place at all.
Then, if Richard's time warping back to Woodstock isn't unrealistic enough, the characters also just happen to meet Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Sebastian, and a few other famous people from back in the day. Aside from that, there really wasn't much of a plot. Nothing even really came of Richard going back in time: He didn't save his uncle--or change the future in any way. There really wasn't much of a point to his journey. Then, once back in modern times, there is a much-much-too-long (3 chapters) explanation of why things are as they are that was about as realistic as a chance meeting with Hendrix. I mentally rolled my eyes several times. But by then I'd pretty much lost interest anyway.
With Are You Experienced, it seemed like the author was more interested in writing about Woodstock than telling a good story. I was disappointed all around.
If you're interested in reading one of Jordan Sonnenblick's books, I recommend skipping Are You Experienced.
Read Notes from the Midnight Driver instead. --AJB