Heynen, Jim. Cosmos Coyote and William the Nice. Harper Collins, 2002. ISBN 978-0064472562 352 pp. $
After one too many run-ins with the police on minor charges, 17-year old Cosmos Coyote, the recently dumped pot-smoking lead singer of a garage band the OughtaB’s, elects to spend a year in the Bible Belt with his religious Dutch farmer relatives rather than go to juvenile hall in Seattle. As he acclimates to the odor of manure that perfumes Iowa, Cosmos finds many hypocritical Christians at the private school he attends, and doesn’t think he’ll ever fit in; he himself feels like a phony as he presents his well-behaved alter-ego William the Nice to the community that refuses to accept him.
This witty and humorous novel is ultimately an honest look at teen relationships that tries to figure out where God fits in with raging hormones. When Cosmos falls for the most religious and wholesome girl in the school, her father forbids her to see him. Cherlyn is almost the only person he can be himself around. Although she promises not to try to convert him, they have many intense and thought provoking discussions about religion, and fall in love and have a mature and respectful balanced relationship. It is a nice change to find a book that raises issues of faith in a non-proselytizing manner.
The support that Heynen creates for his protagonist is stellar. The people who advocate for and believe in Cosmos continually surprise him, especially when he constantly framed for several small thefts. It is heartwarming to see adults portrayed positively, and to be reminded that teens need adult role models, mentors and advocates.
Heynen has a lot of fun with words in this book. As a songwriter, Cosmos struggles with lyrics while his friend Elmer spouts out funky and rhythmic word combinations like some sort of beat poet linguist because talking like a human being is boring.
The cover art is an artful blend of farm and city life that portrays Cosmos’ two sides, with his face ironically in focus only on the more rural side. Highly recommended for purchase.