In Palmer’s urban drama debut, the close friendship between two California teens forever intertwines their lives and culminates in violence.
David Hill was one of the bullies who tormented nerd Israel Baylock, but Israel earns David’s respect when he fights back. The two become friends in high school, and David is soon a regular in the Baylock household—which is perfect for David, since he’s enamored with Israel’s beautiful older sister, Ellena. David’s gang affiliation fractures his eventual relationship with Ellena, but their tenacious love and son, Michael, keep them in close ties. Israel, meanwhile, joins the Marines and disappears in Europe, only to resurface in the U.S. years later. It seems he’s come back just in time: Ellena’s LAPD officer husband, Sean, has revealed too much of his illicit behavior, and a batch of dirty cops hopes to silence Ellena and anyone she loves. David and the now physically adept Israel must protect their family at all costs. Though it boasts impressive action in its final act, Palmer’s story is less an action novel than a potent drama with violent sequences. Palmer deftly concentrates on David’s difficult life and relationship with Ellena. He’s not a likable protagonist; his selling crack in college while on an athletic scholarship, for one, puts later troubles squarely on his shoulders. But he’s softened by his genuine love for Michael, while his struggles with Ellena, who abandons him when he’s arrested, are believably frayed. Israel, David’s counterpart, is shrouded in mystery; little is known of his time in Amsterdam, and he returns to America to escape potential fallback for lethal vengeance against a murderer. The book is, at times, vicious, especially Israel’s bone-crunching brutality against the cops threatening his family. There’s likewise an abundance of racial epithets, mainly the N-word, repeated frequently and used casually, sans animosity, among predominantly black characters. The lengthy confrontation near the end is interrupted by an extensive flashback that works surprisingly well, both as a breather and further examination of how each friend, for better or worse, has been shaped by the other. The ending, too, is a stunner sure to reverberate with readers.
Searing action and drama, but truly a story of friends whose impacts on one another are profound and permanent.