Review and Giveaway: American Rust by Philipp Meyer

American Rust by Philipp Meyer is a contemporary fiction novel set in a dying Pennsylvania steel town, where the largest employer has shut down years before, where few opportunities exist for the town’s youth or the adults who’ve spent their lives slaving away in the steel mills.

Isaac English is a smart but socially awkward young man saddled with the care of his disabled father. Bitter that his sister was able to get out after their mother’s suicide, he finally decides to leave town to make his way to California. Taking his father’s stash of emergency money and throwing some items in a backpack (journals, a jacket) he heads out, asking his one friend Billy Poe to join him in walking the tracks to the outskirts of town where the plan is he’ll jump a train.

Billy Poe is a young man who has used up all his chances. A football star in high school who’s had a couple scrapes with the law, a fight gone wrong, and some missed opportunities.. . now a few years have gone by and here he is, stuck. His glory days are behind him and his future looks bleak. With self doubt holding him back he has stayed behind with his mom in their trailer rather than pursue offers of college scholarships, thinking maybe he’d go away to school in a year or two- well, he realizes now he’s made a big mistake. Nobody wants him anymore and he’s full of regret.

So with no prospects and nothing to lose, Isaac and Billy set off. Before long they encounter a situation with some homeless men on their way out of town that turns violent and changes their lives forever.

Other characters in the book include Billy’s sad and lonely mother, who has had an on again/off again relationship with the chief of police for years; Isaac’s brilliantly stupid sister Lee, a genius and Yale graduate who married into a wealthy family but is still dangerously attracted to Billy Poe; Isaac’s used-up father, a man who favors his daughter and doesn’t realize his deep feelings for his son until it’s almost too late; and the conflicted Chief Harris, a man who means well but whose actions belie his questionable character.

Told from the perspective of all of these characters, this novel does a lot of things very well. Each voice was entirely unique and felt real and raw. Mr. Meyers has created memorable characters that leap off the page, with inner conflicts that are completely relatable. Not only do you want to know what will happen to Billy and Isaac, but you gain a deeper understanding of the complex issues facing towns like the fictional Buell, PA. This economically devastated yet beautiful town was a huge presence in the book. As I was reading, I kept wondering… even if you get out, can you ever escape your past?

American Rust is an excellent debut novel, dark and emotional.  It’s about loyalty, friendship, desperation, and loss.  Mr. Meyers storytelling is compelling and gritty. There is no happy ending here, but if you’re ok with that, this is one I highly recommend.

Random House has generously offered a copy of American Rust as a giveaway to one of my readers as part of it’s TLC Book Tour!  For a chance to win, leave a comment letting me know if you still live in or near your hometown, or if you’ve left it behind. The contest is open until Sunday, February 21, at midnight.


27 Responses

  1. I still live near where I was born. I doubt very much leaving this area either!

  2. I live far from my midwest hometown, but now that I live near the ocean – my homewtown comes to me.
    AMerican Rust is on my wish list. Thanks for the giveaway offer.

  3. I left my hometown thirty years ago. I live about three hours away. I do get back frequently to see family, but can not see myself returning there to live.

  4. I moved away from my area for 11 years, loved it and last year returned home to be close to family again –no regrets.

    I liked this book a loy; great review Lisa.

  5. I’ve left my home town far behind. The ironic thing is I left a small rural town in SD and ended up in a small rural town in NC.

  6. I don’t really have a hometown. As a military kid from the moment I was born, I’ve always moved around a lot. So the idea of a hometown, someplace with roots like that, is actually appealing to me.

    This looks like a great book, thanks for the giveaway!

  7. I left my hometown after high school, lived near our state’s largest city for most of my life. Now after over 50 years, I find myself back in a small rural town much like my hometown. Thanks for the giveaway.

  8. My husband still lives on the same street !! Same little small southern town…..we can walk to town and an antebellum square……

  9. I’d love to read this! I still live in my hometown and even close to the same neighborhood where I was born in all the moves I’ve made.

  10. I’ve gone as far away from my hometown as Japan but now I’m back in the DC Metro area and living an hour south of my folks house. They have lived in the house that I grew up in for the last thirty-two years.
    I have heard so many great things about AMERICAN RUST from many readers/bloggers as well as your review Lisa. I would love to win a copy of it! Thanks for the opportunity.

  11. This book sounds so good! I’ve moved so much I’m not even sure where my hometown is anymore! (No need to enter me.)

  12. I live 6 hours away from my hometown and return to see family when I can.

  13. Thank you for your great review, Lisa. I am glad you enjoyed this one. I could feel the helplessness of the characers’ situations as I read.

    My dad was in the military during part of my childhood and so we moved around a lot. I suppose the closest I come to a “hometown” is Sacramento, where my family settled after my dad retired. I live a few hundred miles away now.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway as I already have a copy. 🙂

  14. Terrific review, Lisa! I’d love to read this book!

    I grow up in NYC, and now live in Southern CA.


  15. I lived in New Jersey all my life until 1993 when I got married and moved to Wisconsin. Sadly, I’m divorced now, but still best friends with my ex, and I stayed in Wisconsin. I love it, even though it’s cold.

    I would love a chance to win this great book.

    Thanks for the chance.

  16. I left my hometown at 17 when I left for college 6 hours away and never went back. I have nothing but bad memories there. I did not even live in the state again for 35 years. It is just in the last 6 years that we moved back to the state, where I went to college.

    I would love to win the book, have had it on my wish list for a long time. Thanks for the giveaway.

  17. I still live in my small hometown and have no desire to leave. It’s where my friends and family are. :0)


  18. I’m still in my hometown…and don’t forsee ever leaving. I love it.

    I would love a chance to win this book, I’ve had my eye on it for awhile now. Thank you

  19. I left my hometown 33 years ago. It was a small town and there were no jobs in the area. But we love going home to visit. This book sounds good. Please enter me. Thanks!

  20. i live about an hour southeast of my hometown–i wanted to move closer to the beach. 🙂 my parents still live in my childhood home during the summer months so i can go visit anytime i want.

    this book sounds like a goody–i’m already guessing at what happens before they leave town!!!

  21. My hometown is in West Texas and I now live in East Tenessee. I haven’t lived in my hometown for over 20 years!

  22. Hmmmmm…. Maybe I missed this giveaway, but it’s not midnight here yet. It’s only 7:36 PM.

  23. I still live where I was born and raised. I know I will never leave this area. All my family and friends are here.

  24. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as others have. I am not even sure that I read the whole thing. I think that I agree with you about the writing. It was very gritty, and it just rubbed me the wrong way a bit. But I am glad that you liked it!

  25. I moved away for about a year after I was married…but we migrated back here and I’m so happy I did!
    Please enter me.

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