“Fender Lizards” by Joe R. Lansdale

A story about being poor, angry but not yet broken that manages to be honest, empathetic and hopeful without being patronising or too-soft-focus-to-be-true.

“Fender Lizards” was my first Joe Lansdale novel which, I’m glad to say, means I have a new author to devour in the coming months.

Joe Lansdale packed a lot in to the 232 pages of this novel: what it’s like being poor enough to be living in a trailer in East Texas with your whole family; how to handle living your life angry, what family really means, how to take joy in being strong and swift, the limitations of solving your problems by taking a piece of 2×4 upside someone’s head and how to take on a Carnival roller derby team called the Karnie Killers.

“Fender Lizards” is about Dot Sherman, a seventeen-year-old girl, who lives with her mother, grandmother and baby brother in a trailer in East Texas, works six-hour shifts at the “Dairy Bob” as a “Fender Lizard” (a waitress on roller skates serving food to folks in their cars) and who is kinda sorta thinking about taking her GED ( Good Enough Diploma).

Dot recounts her story directly to the reader and she doesn’t hold back any on her thoughts or her feelings. She’s angry and sassy but too honest with herself to blame other people for her problems. She does what’s in front of her and she speaks her mind. I found myself believing in her, liking her and wishing her well.

Dot isn’t a Disney character and this isn’t a Hallmark movie. Dot isn’t averse to a little violence, especially when confronting her sister’s abusive boyfriend. She finds it hard to trust men, which show how well she learns from experience, and she won’t take crap from anyone, especially her turned-up-out-of-the-blue-never-heard-of-him-before uncle or her went-out-for-cigarettes-and-never-came-back dad.

This is a remarkably cliché-free book that feels real if allow for a little luck, a little optimism and a lot of spirit from Dot and the people around her.

It’s filled with humour, most of it from the dialogue but some of it from the slightly bizarre situations (there’s a Court scene that could only happen in East Texas). The pace works and there are some wonderful action pieces with the roller derby towards the end of the book.

There’s no happily-ever-after ending where everything’s tied up with a neat bow but the ending is believable, hopeful and left me with a smile on my face.

The audiobook is narrated by Kasey Lansdale, Joe Lansdale’s daughter. I think she did a great job and I recommend listening to the audiobook version.

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