The only thing worse than having your father die unexpectedly is having your mother claim custody of you, or so it feels to Mike.
Michael, almost 16, lives happily with his divorced father in a coastal North Carolina town, running a successful charter fishing business and sharing an easy give-and-take as they work side by side. Mike is pleased when Dad announces his plan to marry longtime girlfriend Maggie. But on the way back from buying a ring, Dad is killed by a drunk driver, and suddenly, Mike finds himself dealing with profound grief, the agonizing steps of planning a funeral and the terrifying prospect that his long-estranged mother might try to take him away from Maggie. Justesen hits the emotional points perfectly, using first-person narration to reveal Mike’s impressive powers of observation and his puzzlement over his own unfamiliar behavior. The novel takes place over the course of about a week, from ring to accident to custody hearing, with solemn pacing and little action until the gripping courtroom scenes. (The cartoonish depictions of Mike’s mentally ill mother and her sweaty lawyer are the book’s weak spots.) A scene in which Mike gets naked (but doesn’t have sex) with his girlfriend is touching rather than spicy.
Teens with a little patience will be drawn into Mike’s struggle to keep going after death has changed everything. (Fiction. 12-16)