Return to Augie Hobble: 11/19/15
Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith is the illustrator's debut into writing tween fiction. It's set along an abandoned piece of US 66 in New Mexico at a struggling family run amusement park, done as a low budget Disneyland.
In terms of location, it's probably most like Cliff's, an an amusement park in Albuquerque. In terms of how it's described, though, it's more like the defunct Santa's Village in Alpine, California with nods to Disneyland before the building of the California Adventure.
Anyway, Augie lives there with his father and mother and he's eagerly awaiting his best friend's return from the yearly family trip. Except his friend doesn't return. Augie learns that he died of an acute reaction to peanuts he accidentally ate on the trip. Augie is convinced that he has killed his friend, having slipped his friend a cookie before the trip.
In road trip stories there are those who take to the open road, leaving the big city for the small towns, or to make a cross country trek from one metropolis to another by way of numerous small destinations along the way. Augie's amusement park was once a destination when US 66 was the mother road and had its own theme song. Then in 1957 it was bypassed by I40 and decommissioned in 1985.
The death of Augie's friend is tied up in the metaphor of the sudden ways things can change and the stubborn way reminders of the past hold on as the rest crumbles around them. Augie who lives in a place on the border between the modern and the forgotten, is open to seeing the worlds between. In this regard he's like Hiyori from Noragami or Richard Mayhew from Neverwhere.
I think the book will appeal to readers who are fans of Gravity Falls. The amusement park is similar to Grunkle Stan's Mystery Shack. Likewise, there are some supernatural goings on in and around the park that Augie feels compelled to investigate. Augie's method of recording these events, though, is an old Polaroid camera that "takes cool pictures that look like Instagram." (p. 23)
As Lane Smith is an illustrator, he includes numerous examples of Augie's Polaroid photographs which add to the road trip charm of this otherworldly book.