Editorial Review: For What It’s Worth By Nathan Pettijohn
What was supposed to be a week of harmless pranks to memorialize their last days of school turns into a nightmare for Jon Ryan and his three best friends when petty criminals, local gangsters, and even the Japanese mob become involved.
For What It’s Worth by Nathan Pettijohn opens with a one-armed man in his late fifties breaking into the estate of a wealthy man named Bob Sockolosky. The intruder, Earl Derkatch, is not a career criminal, but a teacher intent on proving that Sockolosky is corrupt and needs to be stopped. The break-in is to find evidence of Bob’s wrongdoings, but sadly, Earl is proved right in his suspicions in the most horrible way.
After Earl's adventures in the prologue, the story switches to the real protagonist of the book, Jon Ryan. Jon Ryan and his three best friends, Hernandez, Fonz, and Weasel are teenagers who are on the cusp of leaving school and having to deal with things like colleges, careers, and responsibilities. However, the foursome is intent on postponing adulthood for as long as possible in favor of goofing off, taking mushrooms, smoking weed, and drinking. With only one week of school left they make a pact to perform one prank per person per night to memorialize their time together. The “official” rules for the pranks state that no vandalism or physical harm to any person or animal will be allowed, but unfortunately, fate has other plans for the group.
For What It’s Worth chronicles the events that take place during the last week of school for the boys and to say that things do not go as planned would be an understatement. Revealing what pranks the boys have planned and how they turn out would be too much of a spoiler, but suffice it to say the results are both disturbing and hilarious. Nathan Pettijohn has a way with words and right from the prologue manages to draw readers into this darkly humorous story. The book contains one of the grossest scenes I’ve read in a long time, involving Earl’s attempts to hide stolen gems, as well as one of the most laugh-out-loud ones, featuring the llama on the cover. Thanks to the excellent writing the book is hard to put down and seeing how everything spirals hopelessly out of control is entertaining, to say the least.
The best part about For What It’s Worth is that even the most improbable scenes are grounded in realism and anyone who has ever been a rebellious teenager will be able to empathize with the plights of the four boys. Everything in the book takes place between Monday, May 15, 2006, and Saturday, May 20, 2006, but not everything is presented chronologically, which helps with the suspense. Readers are also never in doubt about what days things take place as each chapter shows the exact time and date, which is a neat touch.
While high school students going on a pranking spree is not exactly an original concept Nathan Pettijohn has managed to turn the premise into something that is both engrossing and very funny. The delinquent behavior of the boys might not be appealing to everyone, but it’s hard not to root for them as they are put through the wringer. Pettijohn even manages to make some of the other characters, such as the long-suffering principle, more endearing as the story progresses. Overall, For What It’s Worth should not be missed by readers who enjoy humorous novels featuring ordinary people ending up in extraordinary situations.