Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People by John McHenry

Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People

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A girl and two boys yearn for revenge against those who’ve hurt them in McHenry’s (Derby, 2009) dark coming-of-age drama.

Carla Schwartz, Lyle White, and Dean Barrett are much more than friends. They were all born on the same day in 1966 in Columbus, Ohio, and they’re only 10 years old when they map out their future lives: Lyle and Dean, they think, will both marry Carla, they’ll all have babies, and they’ll love one another forever. Each has harrowing events in his or her past: Carla was born prematurely to a 13-year-old mother; Lyle watched a schoolmate get stabbed to death in his presence; and Dean’s family has a history of violence. Carla, now living with her repulsive aunt and uncle, shares a horrible secret with Lyle and Dean, prompting the friends to take action to ensure that someone never touches Carla again. After the young people are separated—Carla goes to live with other relatives in Portsmouth, Ohio, and the boys stay back in Columbus—Lyle and Dean go on to earn cash by boosting cars, with the goal of someday heading to Mexico with Carla. Meanwhile, Carla finds herself in another precarious spot, as her threatening cousin, Louis, is soon to be released from prison. The boys aim to rescue Carla and keep Louis away from her; soon, their plans include lethal retribution against others who’ve wronged them. McHenry’s blunt, humorless novel is unabatingly bleak as it tackles such issues as child abuse and mental illness. The three protagonists are sympathetic in their tenacity, and they remain so even as they descend into violence; their potential victims, meanwhile, are unquestionably loathsome. The author nevertheless offers glimmers of hope, primarily with a curious, mystical plot turn: the teens are apparently guided by “the Universe”; more specifically, the North Star guides Dean; the Sun, Carla; and the Moon, Lyle. McHenry wisely leaves this point ambiguous, however, keeping alive the possibility that the celestial “watchers” actually just exist in someone’s head, much like Carla’s imaginary friend, Suzie. A downbeat conclusion is inevitable—indeed, a fortuneteller predicts a dismal ending for at least one character—but the somber tale remains provocative all the way to the last page.

An enticing story that derives energy from its unflinching point of view.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5369-4159-3
Page count: 472pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2017


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