Two impoverished teens drift along different paths.
Fifteen-year-olds Jakub Kaminsky (white, the son of a Polish-immigrant single father) and Lincoln Bear (a brown-skinned First Nations boy whose family lives off the reservation) are making the best of their small lives. The two friends enjoy going out at night and tagging their neighborhood as Morf and Skar. When Lincoln’s brother Henry returns from prison, Lincoln is slowly pulled into Henry’s gang, the Red Bloodz. Meanwhile, Jakub gets a free ride to the fancy private school across town. As their lives separate for the first time the two boys face different challenges on their own, and the author smartly assays how even the smallest of choices can lead toward destruction and self-sabotage. The cyclical nature of poverty and despair is a running theme here, ever present and honestly portrayed. Lincoln and Jakub are both distinct, fully formed characters who are supported by a cast of characters that bring out different facets of their personalities and also exemplify how different support systems shape perspective and attitude. The novel has very little humor, but it doesn’t dwell in the maudlin either. There’s a journalistic “just the facts” approach here that greatly appeals. This straightforward approach lends legitimacy to the novel’s final act, one that in lesser hands would come off as over-the-top pulp nonsense.
A smartly plotted examination of the despair that keeps people in their places and the hope that pulls them out of it. (Fiction. 14-17)