Ever since their mother was seriously injured in a car accident, life hasn’t been easy for fourteen-year-old Travis and his brothers and sisters. June, the oldest, has already quit school in order to care for her younger brothers and sisters. When their father loses his job, Travis is forced to quit school so that he can earn money to help support the family. Travis’s mother is in a nursing home, where she doesn’t seem to be getting the help that she needs for rehabilitation. One night Travis and his father have a terrible argument, and his father kicks him out of the house. Travis sets out alone with nothing but the clothes on his back, a broken bicycle and a guitar that has been in his mother’s family for generations. With nowhere else to go, Travis decides to seek out a local guitar maker in hopes that he will be able to repair the old guitar and possibly give him work. Along the way Travis accepts a ride from a stranger, and the man steals the guitar, which is Travis’s only connection to his mother, whose brain trauma has made her almost unrecognizable to her children. He must find a way to get the guitar back, help his mother, and reconcile with his father and the rest of the family.
Guitar Boy is set in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and the local color that the author creates in part through the emphasis on local music and guitar picking is one aspect of the novel that makes it somewhat unique in young adult literature. Travis is a likable main character, and his father is a standard-issue villain throughout most of the book. The secondary characters are pretty well fleshed out but not completely realistic. The plot also strains credibility at times, and the resolution is a little too quick and tidy; however, it may satisfy readers who hope for a happy ending.