Three teenagers in a New Jersey resort town bond over death and petty corruption.
Both Rachel and Ethan, seen through interwoven chapters, have recently lost brothers. Ethan's dead brother, Jason, gets to narrate his story through year-old journal fragments interspersed throughout the novel. Rachel's own dead brother, Curtis, is a silent cipher, a lost child with Down syndrome viewed only through Rachel's memories of caregiving, never treated as an individual with thoughts or hopes of his own. The deaths of both boys are somehow connected to Happy World, a boardwalk amusement park that dominates their hometown. Curtis died in an accident seemingly of his own fault, half a year before ocean-hating Jason drowned off the edge of the jetty. Now, six months later, slacker Rachel just wants to make sense of her life. Her quest introduces her not just to Ethan, but to Leonard, the former park employee who's taken the fall for Curtis' accident. A seemingly standard coming-of-age arc is touched by unsolved mysteries, for Happy World's owner is disturbingly interested in Rachel's friendship with the two boys. Spare storytelling focuses on the tiny details of Rachel and Ethan's world rather than emotional resonance, leaving enough unspoken that it's sometimes difficult to follow the timeline of events.
A dry mystery, an interracial relationship, and a quiet struggle against provincial tyranny make for a choppy-but-promising debut. (Fiction. 14-16)