A cool diagnostic tone helps capture the teenage experience but occasionally obstructs the emotional trip.

NO ALTERNATIVE

Dickerson’s debut tells a sympathetic coming-of-age story deeply embedded in ’90s music.

When a book about musically inclined teens begins with a five-page meditation on suicide, readers may assume not all will end well. That introduction sets the tone for the novel: reflective, unafraid of big-picture pronouncements—“Absolutely nothing is more do-it-yourself than suicide”—but also digressive. The main characters, Thomas, 17, and Bridget, 15, exemplify teenagers of the ’90s: Thomas dreams of grunge superstardom with his band of misfits, while Bridget barely survives her regimen of mood-stabilizers and antidepressants, her feelings of alienation erupting in a gangsta rapper alter ego. Yet the omniscient narrator freely swoops into the minds, memories and POVs of minor characters, giving sympathetic but brief glimpses into other lives. Mom and dad, for instance, may simply be parental obstacles to the kids, but we know them better as we glimpse into dad’s tour in Vietnam and his work as a judge, and mom’s free-love past. Other digressions add to our understanding (or memory) of the ’90s, placing in context, for example, the first Starbucks in the neighborhood or the church’s acoustic music night. These digressions turn out to be narratively motivated: The omniscient narrator turns out to be someone reflecting on the past. And yet some of the asides are less momentous or simply too long: At two pages, a digression on black-and-white motifs in pop culture and race relations begins to feel essayistic and detached from the novel. The digressions and broad declarations sometimes mute the main characters’ emotional journeys, while treating the teens more like specimens. Still, the cool, casual tone results in some knockout diagnoses of the ’90s teenage condition: “[Y]ou feel older as a teenager than you will ever feel in your entire life.”

A cool diagnostic tone helps capture the teenage experience but occasionally obstructs the emotional trip.

Pub Date: April 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985188610

Page Count: 329

Publisher: Kettle of Letters Press

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

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With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the...

OUT OF THE SHADOWS

Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.

Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?

With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.

Pub Date: April 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0984991808

Page Count: 389

Publisher: First Snow Publishing House

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2012

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A fun adventure for anyone who’d love to see a few spunky kids trick some bad-news pirates.

FREEBOOTER'S PARADISE

A DANGEROUS TANDEM ADVENTURE

Pirates, magic and a secret society collide in this fantasy middle-grade novel.

This fast-paced novel follows best friends Cameron and Miguel, who are looking for adventure while cruising through their Arizona town on a tandem bicycle. They find it when an enchanted pirate ship flies overhead and lands in a convenience store’s parking lot. The ship sets up as a shop, which uses an intoxicating mist to trick customers into buying overpriced sea-themed merchandise, while simultaneously making them defenseless against pickpocket pirates. Cameron has bigger problems when Blackbeard, the ship’s intimidating captain, decides that the tween has stolen a powerful ring that would allow him to shape-shift into any person he imagines. Raising the stakes, the pirates kidnap Miguel and force him to perform grunt work with no chance of release. Cameron enlists the help of his best gal pal, Marcella, to free Miguel, but their mission takes a surprising turn when they discover a secret society protecting an underground gold mine. Author Loge keeps the action coming as the trio encounter a nasty doppelganger, a sinister talking parrot and a gang of violent pirates. The breezy writing ensures that the story doesn’t get stale. With so many quick twists and turns, young readers could get lost along the way, but Loge clearly explains all the unexpected changes to keep his audience on track. In addition to a sprinkling of black-and-white illustrations, Cameron’s easy friendship with Miguel and Marcella keeps things light and youthful when the tale could have been bogged down with one too many odd, mystical events. The heart of the book—a young boy as the chosen one who must defeat an evil enemy—has been a common YA plotline in recent years, but Loge’s energetic style makes the theme seem fresh.

A fun adventure for anyone who’d love to see a few spunky kids trick some bad-news pirates.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2012

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