A debut coming-of-age novel, set on the Jersey Shore, follows a teenager who falls in love with a thief.
High-achieving Vivian is bemused rather than frightened when a fellow teen holds up the Dunkin’ Donuts where she works. A few days later, the handsome lad shows up on his motorcycle and they have their first date. Despite notable differences in their ambition levels (Vivian dreams of attending Princeton; Jake plans his next robbery, the sites chosen for the lack of nutrition they promote rather than material gain), the two share a sense of loss. Vivian’s beloved father died recently, and she and her Southern belle mother, Ivy, are clashing for the first time as they navigate their new reality. Jake’s alcoholic mother, Wendy, deserted him and his father, Sonny, to become a cocktail waitress in Atlantic City. Jake’s formidable anger and sense of abandonment—intensified by his diabetes—are palpable. Vivian is drawn to his vulnerability, but Ivy sees him merely as bad news. Vivian’s academic and musical perfection (she plays the clarinet) falter as she spends time with Jake, intensifying the disapproval of Vivian’s best friend, Hailey, and Ivy. Then a bad decision threatens Vivian’s future and her relationship with Jake. Hilton’s secondary players—Sonny, Wendy, Hailey, and Ivy—are just as complex and developed as the main characters. At one point, Sonny turns philosophical: “Wendy had once told him that a group of seagulls was called a flurry, and while Sonny wasn’t normally a person fascinated by words, this was an image he grew to appreciate. A flurry of snow that made it impossible to fly…A flurry of events that made it difficult to put one foot in front of the other.” The tale’s setting, primarily the Jersey Shore town of Belmar, is virtually a character itself, informing and infusing the protagonists in diverse ways. Vivian has no desire to return to her parents’ hometown of New Orleans, but Jersey-raised Hailey finds her spiritual base in the Deep South. Vivian and Jake’s love story may provide the foundation for this book, but it is more than a teen romance. While it is a coming-of-age story for the three teenagers, the parents also learn lessons about love and loss. Eloquently written, the novel transcends ordinary genres and is a work of literary fiction.
A remarkable, deeply nuanced tale about growing up, even for readers who are already adults.