A debut YA novel chronicles a teenager’s crusade to construct a refuge.
It’s been a rough year for Joe McKinnon. In a car accident, Joe lost both his father and his leg. But now Joe is taking the building skills that he absorbed from his dad to raise his own hideaway—a hidden, underground condo—in the woods near his home and without his mother’s knowledge. While Joe wants to handle this project all by himself, he nevertheless recruits his father’s friend Fred Fergussen, who lines up the supplies for him and makes suggestions. An on-site accident soon endangers the project, adding to the guilt that Joe feels about lying to his mother so he can get out of the house to work on his condo. But before long, the teen’s elderly neighbor Mr. Pruitt and Tin Man, a roofer friend of his father, are in on the secret, with Joe’s grudging acquiescence: “Anyone who wants to build a condo in the woods, come on down! Just push the one-legged kid aside.” The project gets delayed because of other developments in his life: a possible girlfriend, a speech he fears giving, a friend’s injury, a fatal car accident. Despite the tragedies that are never too far away, the protagonist’s intelligence and his willingness to trust pay off during some difficult moments. In Joe, Penteros has created a vivid character who bears the cares of the world on his shoulders, which is why others are willing to assist him. In this effective tale, they see all the good in Joe, even if he can’t often see it in himself. Told in Joe’s voice, Penteros’ spare narrative reflects an average teen’s life, with the character often giving too much weight to mundane events, slowing down the story. But the fully developed protagonist skillfully handles some obstacles that life throws into his path. And along the way, Joe emerges from tumultuous times with the help of friends he didn’t know he had and a sympathetic mother he too often tried to push away.
An infectious coming-of-age story about a self-effacing but gifted young man trying to discover his place in the world.