This book is an autobiography disguised as fiction, or it it fiction disguised as an autobiography? It's a good story either way. According to the introduction, a young man approached author Janet Tashjian as she stood in line at the supermarket. He charmed her into reading his manuscript, and she assisted him in getting published.
As a tot, Josh Swensen was forming mathematical equations with his refrigerator magnets. By the time he was seven years old, he was doing eighth grade math. Now he is a high school senior, who eschews contemporary fiction in favor of Thoreau. His favorite pastimes are walking in the woods, studying philosophy, and swinging in his basement. Josh feels alienated. He's in love with Beth, his best (and only) friend. He watches in agony as she dates boys who are all wrong for her. He misses his dead mother terribly, and tries to connect with her spirit in a most peculiar place. His stepfather is a decent guy, but is contemplating marriage to a bland woman who is obsessed with Humpty Dumpty collectibles. It seems as if nothing is going right for poor Josh. Even his early admittance to Princeton University doesn't excite him.
The Gospel According to Larry is a website that becomes an overnight sensation. Larry writes arousing diatribes that challenge people to step outside their comfort zones and take a good hard look at their lives. Soon Josh and his buddy Beth are involved in a community action group, heeding Larry's cry to boycott designer labels and materialism. Larry's sermons rail against shopping as a hobby, false friends, and exploited workers. His ideas spread like wildfire. Even U-2's Bono pays homage to Larry. But deep in the midst of the school “Larry” club, Josh is uncomfortable. The kids at school still don't give him any respect. He yearns for closeness and understanding, yet when it eludes him, he doesn't fall deep into self-pity. Josh appears to know and accept that he is fundamentally different than his classmates.
This is an inspiring read. Josh is an extremely likable, if somewhat quirky, character. Kids who worry that they can't make an impact may feel empowered to become activists after following Josh's exploits. Recommended for age ten and up. There isn't any overt sexual content and no profanity, which is quite refreshing in a book aimed at teens. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel!