A debut novel seeks to redefine YA.
A single summer can change things. For Peter Grady, 12 ½ years old, epileptic, bullied, and lonely, the summer is being transformed by absences (his father, his friends) and presences (charismatic 20-something Josh, disabled Uncle Herb, and kind neighbors Mr. Terry and Mr. James, a gay couple). Mihaley seemingly wants to tell a story of growth through Peter’s friendship with Josh, who believes God speaks to him and is building an ark after a couple of months without rain. Instead, the book is packed with issues, few of which are given time to breathe. Frequent perspective changes to the adults, as when Herb feels down about the toll his care takes on the family or when Nick, Peter’s father, searches for old crushes on Facebook, dilute Peter’s story. Nick’s casual homophobia and cruelty to Herb (he shoves him from his wheelchair onto the floor) are left unquestioned by the text, as are several outdated and needless racist references to Native Americans. All characters are assumed white. The careless, neglectful behavior by the adults—epileptic Peter rides a bike solo despite several breakthrough seizures, and his mother doesn’t call a doctor to discuss them; two children and an adult with spastic tetraplegia are left alone daily—is difficult to contextualize but leaves an uneasy sense of deeper problems.
Unclear in audience, theme, and even grammar, this misses the mark. (Fiction. 13-adult)