A teenage boy and his younger sister take to the seas to escape the end of the world in Haight’s (Tempest, 2015, etc.) novel.
Considering his problems with alcohol, his brittle relationship with his mom and stepfather, and his almost nonexistent relationship with his ex-con dad, Jim Westfield is having a tough adolescence. He tries moving in with his father on an experimental colony more than 100 miles off the West Coast, hoping that the distance from temptation and the hard work required for colony life will straighten him up. Initially, Jim is less than thrilled with his new life and his thorny relationship with his father, but as he adjusts, things start to improve. Jim, however, discovers his father is involved in a number of shady enterprises just as a series of coordinated attacks upends his life. With his little sister in tow, the teenager faces multiple decisions and consequences that could prove dangerous if not fatal. Haight’s writing is raw and emotional, capturing typical teenage sarcasm and hopeful naïveté, and his worldbuilding is potent. The ragged nature of the colony, a floating island built from docks and tethered ships, registers strongly on every page, animating Jim’s life with the assorted oddballs, criminals, and misfits. Although many of Haight’s characters are of limited emotional depth—some, like Jim’s stepdad, Marty, barely register as more than a character trait or two—this can arguably be seen as reflective of Jim’s emotional depth, which broadens and changes as the story charges forward. The novel, the first in a series, ends in such a way that the narrative can move forward organically, yet doesn’t have to. As a result, the denouement and overall plotting feel like a natural progression to the story rather than a contrived cliffhanger.
Strong writing, organic construction, and fully realized—a rousing debut.