Few YA novels provoke nostalgia in me the way Robert Cormier’s do–I’ve read and re-read Fade so many times. Recently, though, a friend recommended Vision Quest, a 1979 YA novel by Terry Davis. She had recently re-read it and was reminded of the compelling protagonist and the strong story line.
Louden Swain, an 18 year old wrestler who plans to graduate early, has to prepare for his match, write his senior thesis, and negotiate a reorganized family as his parents recently split. This story chronicles a boy on the cusp of manhood–a gentle, compassionate boy who loves his girlfriend Carla, and also loves her kitten Katzen. There were a number of things that stood out to me as I read this book where nobody owns a cell phone, rival athletes greet each other with civility and respect, and young people go out into the Pacific Northwest to camp.
The two things I particularly appreciated about the storyline were the preparations he made for his match and the research and thinking he did for his thesis. Louden has to drop about 30 pounds but keep his muscle in order to beat a rival wrestler. He spends all summer working towards his goal, reading books on the human body and nutrition, and even seeking a doctor who will help him do it in a healthy way. I was impressed with the single-mindedness toward his goal–how many teenagers today have a singular goal and apply themselves to it with dedication? Although his nose keeps bleeding and he seems to only eat spinach, Louden remains committed. His commitment also appears in his quest to finish his senior thesis, titled “The Mean Goodness” after a line in James Agee’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915.” He reads all kinds of things to write this thesis on the meaning of life. Once, he quotes a character from Tom Robbins who says “If our style is masterful, if it is fluid and at the same time complete, then we can recreate ourselves.” He also discovers the meaning of life is not in finding ourselves, but in defining ourselves.
The power in this book lies in the voice of the protagonist, and the way Davis captures the feelings of a young man about to cross the threshold to adulthood. An enjoyable read, and I will certainly return to it again.