James is the type of guy you should avoid. When The Hitchhiker opens, he's standing on the side of the road and mumbling to himself. He keeps thinking about how much he hates Key West, how he shouldn't have hurt some poor girl, and how he'll never go back. An older man picks him off from the side of the road, and he gives the man a fake name before thinking about how it's his lucky night.
Then we meet two girls from Cleveland: Terri and Christina. Christina is the wilder of the two, while Terry flips out over the smallest thing. After talking about the wild times they had in Fort Lauderdale, Christina sees a man hitchhiking on the side of the road and picks him up. Naturally, it's James, and surprise surprise, he actually gives them his real name.
They stop at a little diner to order some food. Their waiter takes too long to take their orders and makes a comment about Christina, which causes James to flip out. He practically chokes the guy in the middle of the restaurant before running out and demands that they live. He then tells them that his cousin Paul lives nearby and owes him money, so they head that way.
Paul turns out to be a completely normal guy, except that he makes a few comments about James getting in trouble. His family lets them spend the night, but James keeps thinking about the poor girl he hurt and hearing her crying out in pain. Christina stops in to check on him, they wind up making out, and he decides to stick with them to Cleveland. When he announces his plans the next day, Paul tries to convince him to stay in town and get a job on a construction crew.
Paul also pays him back, but James notice that his wallet is full. Paul won't tell him how he made the money, just that his boss gave him a bonus for a special job. When they get ready to leave, Paul runs out of the house screaming at them that someone stole his wallet. He accuses James and lets it slip that he once stole from a few local stores. After they fight, James punches him in the face and they take off.
Before the left Paul's, they saw a news report about an elderly man who was found attacked and robbed on the side of the road. They hear another report on the radio, and after the two girls keep staring at them, Terri demands that he stop the car. The girls get out, shout at each other for a few minutes, and James drives off in the car. It turns out that he was just joking about leaving them there, but everyone is still in a really bad mood.
After getting back in the car, Terri takes over the drivers seat, but she notices a blue car following them closely. This barely stops Christina and James from making out in the backseat. Christina thinks that it's probably Paul coming back for his money, but everyone freaks out anyway. Terri goes crazy on the highway trying to lose the guy, takes a turn off the highway too fast, and hits a tree. They see someone behind them, think it's the guy who was following them, and flip out again, but it's actually just a tow truck driver. The car only has some minor damage, so they drive it into town and find a hotel.
James hears the girls fighting in their room, but it doesn't distract him from thinking about the poor girl he hurt. Terri comes to his room, acts really flirty, and suggests they take a walk. She gives him a hug and flirts like crazy with him, but when he tries to kiss her, she pulls back and says she wouldn't do that to her friend. They hear a noise in the woods, thinks it's animals, and walk back to the hotel.
Christina shows up the next morning to tell him that Terri disappeared. She left the room the night before and never came back. James doesn't tell her that he saw Terri, but he suggests that she took off on her own. Christina says it isn't possible because Terri didn't sleep in her bed or take her bags. They discover that the car is gone, but Christina has the only keys. He finally suggests they call the police, but she refuses to call anyone for help. They decide to walk into town, have some breakfast, and hitchhike. Instead, James tells her about seeing Terri, and she immediately accuses him of killing her.
Just as she calms down, they hear a gunshot and see a bullet fly through the air. No worries though, because it's just two random hunters firing way too close to the road. They walk on a little further until a man picks them up. He has them put their stuff in the trunk, introduces himself as Art, and makes some small talk. After awhile, Christina realizes that they're heading south instead of north, and Art reveals that he was the man in the blue car.
Art takes them into a cabin in the woods. James tries to attack him, but the guy knees him in the stomach and drops him. Christina then offers him money, and it turns out that she stole the cash from Paul. Art takes the money, but he still won't let them go. He then reveals that he's the son of the older guy from the news reports. James just seems confused, but Christina starts screaming.
It turns out that Art was on his way to visit his dad and saw the girls push his body out of the car before taking off with it. He announces that he took care of Terri and how has to get rid of them too. Apparently, he feels the need to kill James even though he didn't do anything because he pulls out a gun. Christina tells him that she dumped his dad's car and offers to take him to it, but Art doesn't care.
Art directs them out of the cabin and to a pond, which is randomly stocked with piranhas that his friend raised. He tells them all about how Terri died a gruesome death when the fish attacked. When neither want to listen to him, he pushes Christina into the water. Unfortunately, she hits the ground, and he falls into the water himself.
This should be the end, but she decides to make James jump in the pond rather than risk him telling the police what she did. She points a gun at him, and Terri comes out of nowhere, covered in blood and pissed off. The two girls fight, Christina throws her over the cliff in the water, and points the gun at James again. Just as she starts to fire, Terri grabs her ankle and throws her into the water.
He helps her up, they take Art's car, and head to the hospital. After talking to the police, James stops to see Terri before leaving town. It turns out that Terri wanted to tell the police what happened, and all their fights were about whether to talk to the cops. James reveals that the poor girl he hurt is just someone he dumped, but he's heading back to make it up to her. Then, there's a random joke about hitchhiking, blah.
*The chick who had my copy originally underlined and defined words she didn't understand. One of those words was "shoulder" as in shoulder of the road. Her definition? "Burm of the road." It was so random to me because I never even heard that term (burm) until I was driving myself! BTW, she also didn't know what a Greyhound bus line was.
*They all listen to James Taylor at one point. I personally loved James Taylor, but did teenagers in 1993 even know who he was?
*Paul's wallet has $1,000 in it in fifties, which 20 bills, and James says that it's "bulging." Would 20 bills really make your wallet bulge out?
*I'm pretty sure that even in the early 1990s, these kids weren't old enough to rent a hotel room on their own.
*I've read this book a few times, and this is the first time I realized the guy from the beginning and the other older guy are two different people. I always figured he picked up the girls after dropping off James, but it's actually two different older guys.
*Art constantly focuses on one person at a time and leaves one of the two standing behind him, but no one ever attempts to stop him or take him down after he knees James.
*I remember being so shocked at the twist, i.e. it's the girls and not James who killed the old guy, the first time I read this, but it didn't seem nearly as exciting now. As soon as I read their descriptions, I remembered that they did it.
*The poor hurt girl thing is so annoying! In literally every chapter, James has a flashback about her screaming/crying/moaning in pain and how he just walked away and did nothing. Dude, it was a breakup, move on.
*BTW, I'm pretty sure she's already forgot about him!
*If you haven't seen the foreign cover of The Hitchhiker, it's pretty fun to check out.