I was particularly pleased to see that I handicapped the YA and juvenile Edgar awards pretty well. In fact, I picked both winners which was quite satisfying.
This month, I’m back with the third installment of Travis Thrasher’s Solitary series. I discovered them when I was offered a chance to review the first installment, Solitary, for the soon to vanish Canadian review site TCM-CA.com. I had never heard of the author, but was so impressed after reading the first book, I bought the rest of his adult books for the library. Travis is billed as a Christian writer, something that turns off a lot of potential readers. That, quite frankly is their loss. His writing has a grit and edginess that combines with spiritual beauty and a sense of hope/redemption. Everything I’ve read thus far has had an edge that makes it anything but sappy. Solitary hit the ground running and this third installment certainly holds the reader’s attention extremely well. I watched a podcast interview where Travis went into great detail about how the series was laid out, how his having attended four different high schools had influenced the plot and how his choices of music as a child of the ’80s continues to influence his writing
Temptation is a rocket of a book. I devoured it in about four hours, ignoring a beautiful sunny Sunday and flower gardens begging for my attention. The time wasn’t wasted. For reference purposes, I had gone to see the Hunger Games the night before and couldn’t help comparing the action in that film to the movie scrolling through my mind while I was reading this. Don’t bother reading it unless you have read Solitary and Gravestone because nothing, well almost nothing, will make sense. In Solitary, Chris Buckley fell in love with Jocelyn, beautiful, but wounded in ways she couldn’t or wouldn’t share with him. She was ritually murdered by a group of hooded men on New Year’s Eve at the end of the book, leaving Chris both angry and devastated.
Gravestone found Chris trying to figure out why she was murdered and a hell of a lot more: What was driving his mom to drink? What made the strange noises he heard beneath the cabin? Who could he trust? Why did every girl he cared about disappear? Why couldn’t others in Solitary see the overarching evil enveloping the town? Was the mysterious guy claiming to be his cousin for real? By the end of the second book, Chris still had loads of questions and very few answers. One thing was for certain, every time he started to reach out and trust someone, they were hurt or they betrayed him. Kelsey, the only normal girl Chris has met, scares him for that exact reason, forcing him to back away and leave her hurt and confused.
Temptation begins with a quick peek from near the end of the book that sets the reader up nicely to wonder what in heck happened to get Chris to this point and place, but it’s a deceptive vignette as readers will discover. Chris is trying to stop feeling and just get by. He’s going to the first of two summer school sessions in order to catch up and be able to graduate. There are references to the Breakfast Club that will resonate with folks who grew up in that era. The other kids in this session are pretty odd and interesting; an Asian girl with big glasses who says little, a skinhead, a doper and a preppie among others. Then Lily walks in and Chris is smitten all over again. Blonde, sexy, and possibly attracted to him, she’s the perfect antidote to all the demons rumbling through his soul. Still, Chris can’t forget what happened to Jocelyn and then Poe. If he falls for another girl, will the evil forces lurking in the shadows destroy his latest chance for happiness? As the dance of romance progresses, Pastor Marsh starts coming around, teasing Chris with tidbits of information that start to clarify some of the odd happenings, but one mystery that refuses to be solved is what happened to Iris and her inn that burned near the end of Gravestone. No matter how often or how hard Chris searches, he can’t find the road leading to it.
By the end of Temptation, Chris has discovered why Pastor Marsh didn’t die when he stabbed him, he’s rekindled a relationship with the only truly good girl he’s met, he’s started to discover the parts of his family history that created all the sinister stuff smothering Solitary, NC., his mom and dad have started communicating again, Lily has confessed to things Chris certainly doesn’t want to hear and he has reached a huge turning point in his quandary about faith and evil. To say more about the plot would spoil some of the suspense and action, of which there is plenty of both. All 17 reviews on Amazon give this one 5 stars for very good reasons. It’s one scary ride and sets up what should be a fantastic toe-curling final installment due in January 2013.
Holly Cupala’s Don’t Breathe A Word is a story about suffocation and family preconceptions. Joy has suffered from severe asthma since early childhood. In fact, she almost died at one point. Her family has fallen into the mindset of her being the perpetual family invalid, with them hovering on the sidelines waiting for her next bad attack. When her older brother, the designated caretaker goes away to college, the family is more than happy to let suave, rich Asher, son of Joy’s dad’s employer, take over as both her boyfriend and caretaker. Unfortunately, everyone misses the growing signs of a controlling and very abusive relationship. When Asher forces Joy to do something that shocks and horrifies her, she decides to take a most desperate action, she fakes her own kidnapping and runs away to find a street kid she once saw in Seattle. Asher was verbally berating her at the time and the boy conveyed a cryptic message as he watched the event; “If you ever need me, I’ll protect you.” Joy hasn’t forgotten and plans her disappearance as carefully as someone with no street smarts can.
Her first few nights on the streets of Seattle are really scary and she loses much of her belongings and money when an older pedophile tries to attack her. When she does find Creed, the boy she’s looking for, he takes her in, introducing her to May and Santos, two other runaway teens who share the moldy, leaky and abandoned house that they call home. Joy learns many things the hard way: how awful things can be before kids do take to living on the street, what prior abuse can do to kids’ behavior in order to survive, how totally scary life with no safety net becomes when you have run out of inhalers, learning to dumpster dive for food and break into a YMCA in order to take a shower. The major mystery is why Creed and the others ran away from home and Joy has a very hard time getting that information while learning her street smarts. There are some really gritty scenes, bordering on awful in this book, but they make the reality of street life for kids as authentic as any book I’ve read. The ending will make you feel better and have a bit of hope that things will turn out as well as possible for Joy, Creed, May and Santos. The author has another book called Tell Me a secret which I have not read yet that I suspect is equally as good and would resonate with teen girls experiencing precarious living situations. That one is called Tell Me A Secret.
Looks like you’ve just added some books to my reading list! Thanks, John!
Congratulations on being such a great Edgar handicapper! My writers group places bets on the Edgar short story winners every year and we are TERRIBLE. One year one of us picked every story except the winner.
I just reserved this at my library. Thanks for the recommendation. Librarians rock!