Logan knows trouble, and knows he should avoid it. But his best friend's just been killed by a monster wave, and the surfer code he's tried to live by doesn't seem to be holding up. So when he and his screwup of a buddy, Z-boy, are offered a job and his college fund is obliterated by his shiftless father, there seems to be just one answer.
The assignment is simple enough: Drive a car from California to Florida. Don't stop for anything but fast food and gas. Oh, and lose the surfer persona and pretend to be Young Republicans because there's a really large delivery of drugs hidden in your car.
Since Z-boy's options are limited and Logan's earning potential has been severely constrained by his newly broken ankle, the teens accept the drug dealer's offer. And then the wild ride really begins.
Neri, a Tampa writer, knows his audience, and surfing. He spent most of his life in Southern California, and Surf Mules is the better for it. His first middle grade novel, Chess Rumble, was named a Best Book of the Year by Bank Street College and a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Surf Mules is aimed at older teens, especially boys, who Neri feels have been overlooked as readers.
The surf scene and the drug culture will certainly draw these new readers in. A lot happens in this novel, and if it sounds like a paean to illegal drugs, it isn't. Logan respects his mother, a hard-working nurse determined not to let her son turn into his deadbeat dad. There's a sweet love interest, a surfer girl with soul.
And when bad decisions are made, there are consequences. At heart, Logan's a good kid, likable, the kind of vulnerable character you cheer for. If his actions play out against a backdrop of surfing slang, drugs and rock 'n' roll, after all, this is an adolescent coming-of-age story. And, in the end, doesn't everybody learn something from that?
Augusta Scattergood is a writer and former librarian who lives in St. Pete Beach.