Engrossing prose but myopic in focus.

PROMISE OF DEPARTURE

A man flees his failed marriage for the post-quake destruction of Haiti to repair motorcycles and find purpose.

Greg should be happy: He’s self-made and wealthy, able to quit his job to ride motorcycles (his favorite pastime) and watch his daughter, Maggie, grow up. But this life seems to be slipping away; loneliness and malaise overtake him, and sleep without alcohol becomes impossible. In the wake of his divorce, he sees coverage on TV of the massive earthquake in Haiti that shook the hearts of the world, making Greg think it’s time to shake things up, too. Packing all he can onto a bike, he leaves his fractured family for Port-au-Prince, where he aims to fix motorcycles and find his place in the world. Montgomery’s debut recalls aspects of Lawrence Sterne, with an introspective protagonist both pursued and pursuing some great intangible, the destination secondary to the many digressions along the way. Yet Greg isn’t easily tolerated in this role, as his hobbyhorses—his obsession with his bike and the roads it runs on, the past he’s left behind in America—dominate the novel’s focus. As a result, Haiti as a setting is underutilized, with its poverty and destruction largely subdued. The book’s strong attention to detail, easily its greatest asset, is suddenly absent, and the chance to vividly experience the heartbreak the narrator claims to see is lost, turning the catastrophe into a backdrop for the narrator’s inner turmoil. The novel’s small supporting cast exists to validate the narrator, never challenging him, even when a character like his best friend, Logan, is presented as savvy enough to do so. Logan and, to an extent, Greg’s daughter act as utility characters—people for the protagonist to write to as a means to talk more about himself. Quick-witted, confident Beth, the love interest, becomes a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a static, nonthreatening woman meant solely to move Greg toward self-forgiveness and growth. The novel is uniform in its humorless tone, but the colloquial manner that Greg engages with his own challenges, from dropped bikes to sleepless nights, steers the book clear of heavy-handedness.

Engrossing prose but myopic in focus.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985119799

Page Count: 282

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2012

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

BROTHERS IN ARMS

BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #9

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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