Behind the Wheel: Poems about Driving

—American Booksellers Association Pick of the Lists

—Booklist Star

—ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers

As a freshman at UCLA, I was a volunteer tutor with Prison Coalition. Each Thursday afternoon, a group of other students and I visited a juvenile detention center to read with the teenagers there. Week after week, I remember being asked to read the driver’s handbook. Page after page about speed limits and the right of way, deadly dull stuff, but those fourteen-year-old kids wanted to hear it over and over and over again. All they could think of was driving – and freedom!

When I decided I wanted to write a “teen” book, I remembered this experience, and chose to focus on driving. But as I wrote the poems for Behind the Wheel, I realized how much driving is a metaphor for life. Just as in driving, in life you’re wise to repay the kindness shown to you, “to thank the old lady who lets you in.” You had better not “steal someone else’s spot,” particularly in a mall parking lot during the holidays. And you’re better off, always, if you “keep your eye on your rear.” Wishing you a safe journey, wherever you’re headed!

Ask a Friend
from BEHIND THE WHEEL: Poems about Driving
by Janet Wong

You don’t always need
to go it alone.
Ask a friend
to give you a ride,
to help you out,
to get you home.

When you’ve found some better times,
you won’t forget, you’ll pay him back.
Let your friends be good to you.
Go along for the ride,
face in the wind.

Copyright ©1999 by Janet S. Wong. All rights reserved.

“[R]eflective…conversational and unfussy…Wong relies on telling particulars rather than heavy universals, as in a poem about family: ‘Sometimes you wonder if they care, But when you mess up – WOOMPH! – they’re there, like air bags, in your face.’
– Horn Book

“Wong uses simple, personal free verse to explore the spaces between family and self, this time through distilled moments in the car and on the road. . .Wong’s brief, clear lines will be accessible even to the most reluctant poetry readers, and readers of all ages will be moved by the intersection of poignancy and humor as she describes the thrilling freedom of the car and an emerging adult’s awareness that, although she’s traveled, her road still leads to home.”