Tom Wright‘s debut is far from a typical southern coming-of-age novel. What begins as a dysfunctional family story (and what a family) becomes something else after our two young teens, Jim and L.A., find the body of a girl just about their age while out riding bikes and collecting bottles to supplement their allowance.
There’s an otherworldliness to the story. Once the bodies start showing up, Jim begins dreaming of a dead girl standing over his bed. He has a sort of Sight. The supernatural mingles with the religious — from fish that fall from the sky during a storm to an old woman’s prophesies. Certainly the evil that these teens encounter is biblical in scope, as is the retribution suffered by its perpetrators.
I have to admit that I am completely taken with this book. I love a good crime novel, and this one also offers elements of horror. What exactly is going on here? In the very first sentence we know that Jim feels he needs to be forgiven for something. And what is going on inside L.A.’s head? Why did she run away from home? From the first page, there are questions begging to be answered.
I also love Jim’s narrative voice. I can imagine sitting down and having a great conversation with this kid. He’s obviously telling the story from some future time, still trying to piece together what happened and what he might have done differently. So his voice is more mature than his age. Within all of his self-doubt lives such sincerity and strength. Jim is determined to protect those he loves, and equally determined to figure out what life is all about. And as much as he longs to understand L.A., so do I! I wish the author would write a companion novel in her voice. She is an enigma. I would also beg for a different ending for her…
The author offers interesting insights into his choices on Youtube. Set in the Dallas of the author’s childhood, the setting is autobiographical, a place where it should have been safe to play outside, to explore. The novel is also deeply influenced by Wright’s work as a therapist and forensic witness.
I enjoyed interviewing the author myself recently, and hope you will look for that piece in the June 20th SLJ Teen Newsletter. And finally, in case it isn’t obvious, this one is for mature teens. There’s some seriously scary content here. But there’s also serious appeal for those who love to sink into horror and crime and the land where the two meet.
Adult/High School–Early one morning, Jim “Biscuit” Bonham’s sixth sense alerts him to a presence on his grandmother’s porch. There he finds his cousin L.A., shivering and nearly catatonic. Clearly she has run away from home, but she refuses to share her reasons. She moves in that very day, eventually finding her voice again, though she’s never quite the same. Jim has been staying with his grandmother ever since living in the same house with his stepfather became intolerable. Jack is an amateur fighter and enjoys practicing on Jim. The novel encompasses one summer when Jim and L.A. are in their early teens, a summer during which teenage girls are found raped and murdered in their suburban Dallas neighborhood, and Jim starts dreaming of a dead girl standing by his bed at night, trying to tell him something. Meanwhile, Jim is in love with beautiful Diana, daughter of the local police chief and L.A.’s best friend. Jim’s best friend, Dee Campion, is “a gentle boy,” an artist misunderstood by his father, headed for tragedy of a different kind. From the outside, their lives appear simple and sweet. But Jim is haunted by his inability to protect those he loves from the evil that walks among the ordinary, which he likens to “having a tiger in your bathtub without knowing it.” Foreboding is intense throughout the novel while, at the same time, Jim’s youthful, innocent voice guides readers through its events. Wright combines horror, crime, mystery, and coming of age with elements of the supernatural and child abuse issues. Teens with a love for dark stories will be intrigued.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City