Moser’s debut is an unflinching young-adult novel that sees a group of friends tested by bigotry and the illegal machinations of a religious cult.
In Boulder Creek, Wash., Maurice “Mo” Kirkland is a teenage runt with everything to prove. Bullies want to dunk his head in a toilet—and could do it daily if not for the intervention of Mo’s best friends, Max and Kazzy. The three stick together in a school that loves to mock Mo for being short and having two moms and Kazzy for being a member of the nature-worshipping Bethlehem cult (in which she’s called Prophecy). As the trio proceeds through high school, Mo realizes he’s deeply in love with Kazzy; she, meanwhile, learns that the government wants her and the 60-plus members of the Bethlehem “family” to pay decades’ worth of property taxes or have their ranch confiscated. Everyone hopes that a series of “vision quests” will help to resolve their dilemma. Toward that end, Max and Mo hike into the mountains with a young man named Clean. Instead of finding spiritual enlightenment, however, the two boys are coerced by Clean into smuggling crystal meth down from Canada. Now the pair must cope with breaking the law—and possibly ruining Boulder Creek as the drugs are sold—to keep Kazzy in their lives. Debut author Moser serves up an irresistibly wisecracking narrator in Mo. Every page ripples with a controlled cleverness that seasoned writers might envy; Mo says of his height, “If I’d shown up at school wearing a leash and chewing a Frisbee, no one would have noticed.” There’s also a rawness to this tale similar to that which many teens face in the real world. Words like “cracker” and “faggot” appear frequently. Moser can wax rhapsodic about young love, but he shows that he knows how to raise the tension in the second half of the novel as the Bethlehem group trades tolerance for violence.
A stellar read for teens and adults, full of hilarious growing pains, tenderness and a few surprises.