A coming-of-age story reveals a smart and strong-willed teen becoming a man in a new and unfamiliar environment.
At the beginning of this novel, Darwin Hastings is on a flight to New York from Pittsburgh to live with his football star cousin Luther Pinnelli. Darwin’s parents died years before, and his aunt can no longer take care of him. He’s ambitious and wants to study medicine after graduating from private school. His plans get muddled when he moves in with Luther, a self-serving celebrity who thinks he’s doing right by Darwin by denying him basic luxuries, making him live in a storage room on his estate, and denying him easy access to the money his parents left him. Darwin is able to overcome just about every obstacle with his keen intellect and genuine empathy for people. It gives him allies in the house, including Luther’s eccentric grandmother, house manager Mrs. Thomas, head of security Laszlo Forgash, and Luther’s girlfriend, Sweeney Pale. He meets Dr. Adrian Malverne on the plane and befriends his family, including two daughters, Helen and Coral. Darwin’s life in New York does not lack for adventure. Laszlo becomes a father figure, teaching Darwin how to drive and other basic life skills. Granny and Mrs. Thomas look out for him when Luther is neglectful. Luther is a philanderer with a gambling problem, which puts him in physical danger at one point during the story. Darwin must navigate all of this, including his friendship with Sweeney, while avoiding his cousin’s problems, getting into medical school, and figuring out his romantic life. Coles (Sister Carrie, 2016, etc.) offers an engrossing story in the first half that shows Darwin finding his place in a world that was set to reject him from the start. There is a strong dynamic between him and the other characters in the house, especially as Darwin’s integrity keeps him—and sometimes everyone around him—in line. That fades severely in the second part when the tale focuses more on Darwin’s relationships with women and a twist involving a murder mystery. Established storylines are unfortunately ignored. The most engaging element is watching these core players bounce off one another, and they do much less of that in the second half.
An exhilarating family tale when concentrating on the main characters, but the relationship fireworks and intrigue feel ordinary.