Considering that close to a decade has passed between Ron Koertge’s Stoner & Spaz and its sequel, the recently released NowPlaying: Stoner & Spaz II, I was surprised that the sequel picked up where the first book left off. I thought the novel might find the characters crossing paths again several years later, but instead the novel resumes shortly after Ben, a film junkie with cerebral palsy, shows his documentary at a Hollywood art gallery. Colleen, a different kind of junkie who wants to clean up her act, progresses from acquaintance to the status of almost girlfriend in Stoner & Spaz. However, at the end of the book she ditches Ben at the art gallery in favor of another bad seed type of guy.
While Colleen disappears, Ben meets a girl named A.J., another aspiring filmmaker who seems interested in both Ben and his filmmaking skills. She’s also a driven girl from a wealthy family, two things Ben’s controlling and occasionally judgmental grandmother approves of. Much of Koertge’s new book is taken up with Ben trying to choose between Colleen and A.J. He also struggles to figure out if either of them is interested in dating him or if they think of him as more of a friend.
Other conflicts arise. Part of the way through the book, Colleen finds out where Ben’s mom is living and the two of them take a road trip to see her. Ben also grapples with whether the documentary films he’s making are exploiting the people they are about. He considers making a film about Colleen and later in the book A.J. wants Ben to make a film about seeing his mother for the first time since he was four.
I don’t know if all the story lines come together that neatly in Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II, but since this novel and its predecessor are driven first and foremost by dynamic characters, I was okay with the story meandering at times. I just hope that if Koertge writes a third installment about Ben and Colleen that it doesn’t take as long to come out.