A fast-paced, unsettling portrayal of abuse and brotherly loyalty.
Born with one ear, 14-year-old Stick, née Stark, has been bullied for as long as he can remember in his Oregon hometown. His tough older brother, Bosten, usually looks out for him. At home, their abusive parents do little else besides smoke, drink and beat the living daylights out of their sons. When Bosten is discovered in flagrante delicto with his best friend, he’s severely beaten and imprisoned by their father. The next morning, Stick discovers Bosten has fled the scene. Stick then embarks on a perilous journey to find him. Intense, brutal and heartrending, Smith’s latest starts off choppy but soon finds its stride. He visually breaks up his dialogue to represent Stick’s hearing disability, which may seem twee at first, but the cumulative effect makes the device work. The abuse is relentless, and it doesn’t let up even after the brothers finally escape their parents. A temporary relief—for both the characters and readers—is found at an aunt’s house in California, where friendship, surfing and sand wash their anxieties away. Neither brother understands just how awful their life is until they experience this respite, and that makes the abuse at home all the worse. Smith’s well-crafted dialogue and characterizations help move the plot along quickly towards an unnecessarily crunched ending.
An altogether compelling, if disturbing work. (Fiction. 14 & up)