As someone who has read Jumper, my eyes were immediately caught by another story featuring a teenage boy with the sudden ability to teleport being followed by nefarious adults. However, Nathan Burgoine’s Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks is unique in its own right, fun, charming, and an absolute delight to read. Cole (Colenap to his tormentors) is a high school senior counting down the last two weeks until he can escape from his small Canadian town and his infamous history of being kidnapped when he was 4 years old.
A self-professed nerd who loves card games and bullet journaling, Cole has his future mapped out point by point, and suddenly being able to teleport is definitely not on his list (at first). His plans also didn’t include popular “sportsball” hottie Malik, but when Malik helps Cole out of a jam, the two soon find themselves forming an unexpected friendship. Between trying to navigate his new ability, his new friendship with Malik, being watched by creepy strangers, and, of course, final exams, Cole will have to combine his smarts and planning skills, as well as learn to think on his feet, if he hopes to create the ultimate exit plan.
Burgoine does an excellent job crafting relatable, lovable, and believable YA characters and high school experiences. Cole is confident and self-assured in his goals, while also being reasonably insecure without coming across as neurotic as a Woody Allen character trapped in the body of a teenage boy; smart without being an annoyingly worldly sage that reads Kierkegaard for fun and quotes Aristotle to his friends; and an unapologetic nerd who isn’t a checklist of geek culture archetypes à la Big Bang Theory.
While the teleportation aspect and the ensuing hijinks and complications are entertaining and integral to the story, so is Cole’s relationships with his parents, his groups of friends, and the Rainbow Club they formed for queer kids at their school. In some ways the teleportation takes a back seat to the characters and relationships in the story, which for me is not a problem. I was surprised and delighted by the reason for his ability, but the revelation comes late in the story and is not explored, so if the hows, whys, and wherefores are very important to the reader, they may be a bit disappointed. However, I really liked how Burgoine uses the secondary characters to explore the wide-ranging presentation of gender and sexuality, the importance of seeing and embracing the experiences of those who may be different from you, how even those with similar experiences from your “in group” can say hurtful or ignorant things, and that even when you don’t have all the right words, you should still try in a way that is natural to the narrative. As Andy’s father is deaf, I also really enjoyed how deaf language is presented in the story.
Additionally, although Cole is attracted to Malik, this is NOT a romance so romantic meet-cutes or hilarious/adorable dates are not on the menu; however, there are covert looks and the development of their friendship and the possibility for more is sweet and believable. Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks is not really a sci-fi/fantasy story per se; at its core it’s a charming story about friendship, listening, and being there for others, with an endearing, goal-focused teenager with a big heart, a penchant for awkward jokes, and and the desire to solve his teleportation abilities via checklists, logic, and sheer force of will. While the story is complete, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope Burgoine would be inspired to delve more into Cole’s ability and him learning more about who he is. So if you’re looking for a book for yourself or your young adult with great characters and great representation that is just a joy to read, you’ll love Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks.