by Pete Hautman

Publishing Information: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers : New York, 2005
ISBN: 0689868006 / 0786279095 (Library Binding)
Pages: 149 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Andy, a star athlete, and Dougie, an outcast, are unlikely best friends. Besides being different, there is something about their friendship that doesn't seem quite right.

Book Talk:
Doug Hanson is considered a bit of a freak. He's harassed at school and spends most of his time working on his elaborate model railroad. He's even building a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge with matchsticks. Doug's best friend Andy, on the other hand, is totally different. At school, he's a popular football player and actor. As best friends, these two are not a combination you would expect. At home they live right next door and even talk to each other through their bedroom windows. But the more you read about Andy and Doug, you realize that something about their friendship is not quite right....

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Life Changing Events in Teenagers
Mentally Ill Teenagers
Models and Modelmaking
Model Railroads
Psychic Trauma in Teenagers
Teenage boys
Social Isolation

Awards & Reviews:
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2006

It's hard to tell if Hautman meant this to be a mystery, but it's clear from the start that there's something not right about the relationship between narrator Doug Hanson and his best friend, Andy Morrow. Doug, a self-proclaimed nerd, is primarily interested in building a matchstick replica of the Golden Gate Bridge for his model railway town. Andy is popular, a football player and actor. But the boys live next door to each other and talk from their bedroom windows at night. In an almost robotic voice that still manages to be intensely insightful, Doug takes readers to his school, where he is mocked and eventually beaten, and to his neighborhood, where he turns into a Peeping Tom, watching school star Melanie Haver undress. Hautman does a superb job of crafting the odd sanctuary that is Doug's mind. But Doug's defenses are crumbling, and the secret he's been keeping about Andy is oozing through the cracks. The truth about Andy won't come as a surprise, but there are some unexpected plot turns here, and the chilling but ambiguous denouement is definitely unsettling.
-- Booklist, June 1, 2005, p. 1784

Dougie Hanson is invisible to nearly everyone in this haunting, lonely tale. He's extremely close to his best friend, Andy, even though Andy's a popular athlete. When they aren't together, Dougie works on the elaborate model train he's been building for nearly three years; the 11-foot-long suspension bridge built of matchsticks is nearly done. The bridge contains 22,400 matches in all (Dougie likes both numbers and matches). As the bridge approaches completion, glimpses from Doug's eyes reveal a life more troubled than he admits. His parents worry, his therapist asks if he's taking his meds and a female schoolmate accuses him of stalking. The mentally ill Dougie, who evokes echoes of Faulkner with his unreliable narration, is confronted with truths he can't bear. The deceptively simple prose doesn't keep secrets from its readers, but Dougie's harrowing mysteries are no less tragic for their visibility. (Fiction. 12-16)
--Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2005

The strength of Hautman's (Godless) painfully sad novel is the wisecracking but clearly unreliable voice of its narrator, 17-year-old Douglas MacArthur Hanson who admits, "I'm not only disturbed, I'm obsessed." One of his passions is "Madham," a town he's building for his model railroad, complete with a 1:800 scale replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. He's also fixated on a pretty girl who clearly wants nothing to do with him. And he's overly reliant on his only friend, Andy Morrow, a fellow junior who is the popular and outgoing yang to Dougie's outcast and introverted yin. Hautman expertly teases out the truth about a tragic incident that occurred "at the Tuttle place" three years earlier, a mystery that propels the story to its horrific conclusion. Dougie is as mathematically gifted and socially inept as the autistic narrator of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time , but he also has a sophisticated wit. During a lapse in conversation at one of his $95-an-hour therapy sessions, he observes, "We stare at each other for about $1.40." His self-deprecating comments and wry observations make his spiral into self-destruction all the more heartbreaking. (One measure of how sympathetically the author has portrayed him is that even though he stalks a classmate, you root for him to get away with it.) Hautman once again proves his keen ability for characterization and for building suspense.
--Publishers Weekly, June 27, 2005, p. 65 (Starred Review)

Gr 7 Up -- Seventeen-year-old Dougie takes everything literally, lacks social graces, and is a loner, except, perhaps, for his one friend, athletic and popular Andy Morrow. But readers know almost immediately that something tragic has happened in the recent past: "Andy and I had some bad luck with fires when we were kids. We're more careful now" Other students feel threatened by Dougie's disturbing behavior and react by targeting him with cruelty and violence, which only serves to escalate his descent into unreality, isolation, and obsession. The teen has been working for nearly three years on his model railroad set, using 22,400 headless matches to build a bridge connecting portions of the Madham Line. As his life deteriorates, this obsession and his nightly talks with Andy are the only things that keep him clinging to normalcy. He resists the help of his psychiatrist and hides his medication. Ultimately, he is forced to remember what actually happened on that fateful night. With its excellent plot development and unforgettable, heartbreaking protagonist, this is a compelling novel of mental illness. Susan Riley
-- School Library Journal, June 1, 2005, p. 160 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. At what point did you begin to realize that Doug and Andy's relationship wasn't what it seemed to be?
  2. Why did you start questioning their relationship?
  3. Why does Dougie portray Andy the way he does?
  4. How effectively does the author reveal the events that took place in Dougie's past?
  5. What is the significance of the model Golden Gate Bridge?

Related Websites:
Mental Health at the National Institute of Mental Health -

National Model Railroad Association -

Pete Hautman's Website -

TeensHealth: Your Mind -

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Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, 2000 (2001 RITBA Nominee)
Ethan Between Us by Anna Myers, 1998
Georgie by Malachy Doyle, 2001
The Gospel According To Larry by Janet Tashjian, 2001 (2002 RITBA Nominee)

Memories of Summerby Ruth White, 2000 (2001 RITBA Nominee)
Racing Fear by Jacqueline Guest, 2004
Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones, 1999 (2001 RITBA Nominee)

Other Books by the Author:
Drawing Dead, 1993
Short Money: A Mystery, 1995
Mortal Nuts, 1996
Mr. Was, 1996
Ring Game, 1997
Stone Cold, 1998
Mrs. Million, 1999
Hole in the Sky, 2001
Rag Man, 2001
Doohickey, 2002
Sweetblood, 2003
Godless, 2004
The Prop, 2006

About the Author:
I was born in 1952 in Berkeley, California, or so I am told. At the age of five, I moved to St. Louis Park, Minnesota. I went to Cedar Manor Elementary School, and eventually graduated honor-free from St. Louis Park High School.

For the next eight years I attended the Minneapolis College of Art & Design and the University of Minnesota. Contrary to recent news reports, I did not graduate from either institution. After college I worked various jobs for which I was ill-suited, including sign painter, graphic artist, marketing executive, pineapple slicer, etc. Eventually, having no better options, I decided to write a novel. I finished writing Drawing Dead in 1991. Two years later it was published by Simon & Schuster.

Today, I live with mystery writer and poet Mary Logue in Golden Valley, Minnesota and Stockholm, Wisconsin. We have two small dogs named Rene and Jacques. Taken from the author's website