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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

The Spark and the Drive

Wayne Harrison’s The Spark and the Drive is one of my favorite debut novels of the year, and like so many debut novels it appears to have been based on the author’s life. Like his young narrator, Harrison worked as an auto mechanic in Waterbury, CT and he uses that background for all it’s worth, making the reader smell the exhaust fumes in this novel which combines the coming-of-age of a young man, and the slow decay of an old industry. For anyone interested, Harrison has an excellent website with photographs of some of the book’s key elements, including the extremely important 1969 ZL1 Corvette.

HARRISON, Wayne. The Spark and the Drive. 272p. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. Tr. $25.99. ISBN 9781250041241. LC 2014000133.

In his fantastic debut novel, Harrison finds surprising resonances between his main plot of a fiery love triangle and an underlying paean to the great American muscle cars and the mechanics who maintained them. The heart of both stories is Justin Bailey, a young man who has put off college to work at the garage of his idol, Nick Campbell, one of the best auto mechanics in Connecticut. When Nick and his wife Mary Ann lose their young son to SIDS, Nick begins to make mistakes at the garage and draws away from those close to him. Mary Ann, desperate for intimacy, turns to Justin, and the two begin a passionate affair. Justin, who loves Nick as a father, finds himself torn between helping Nick regain his edge and hoping that his mentor will finally pull away altogether and leave Mary Ann. Set in the early 1980s, as smog laws and computers are bringing about the death of the American muscle car, and the end of careers of mechanics like Nick, the novel sets up a brilliant parallel to the love triangle as Justin finds himself caught in the middle at the garage as well. He is old and idealistic enough to love Nick’s old ways, but young enough to be able to surpass Nick in the new ways. Harrison’s lovingly detailed descriptions of engine mechanics are almost more gorgeous than his romantic plot. No knowledge of cars is necessary, but teens with an interest in engines should find this coming-of-age story especially poignant.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

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About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark