This was such an absorbing story! And to think I actually deliberated over whether to request it for review! When you pick up this book (and you really want to, believe me) make sure you have a few hours to yourself to read it, because you won’t want to put it down.
To begin with, the writing in this novel is superb. It has vitality, a fantastic use of imagery, and a wonderful way of capturing the essence of a character or a situation with one or two well-chosen, and often pithy, observations. And some of those observations prompted sudden outbursts of laughter from me – so beware if you are reading in public. You may get some funny looks!
The story is narrated in the first person from the point of view of Matt Plumley, and alternates seamlessly between Matt's return to Dogwood in the present (1984, for the purposes of this novel) and the year that Matt and his parents moved from Pittsburgh to Dogwood when he was 14 (the year 1972). Matt strikes up a friendship with Jesse and Dickie the day he arrives in Dogwood, but their friendship is tested from the beginning by the differences in their circumstances. In Matt’s own words, Dickie’s mixed-race ancestry was ‘a knapsack full of rocks on his forced march through his childhood’, and Jesse’s situation is one of utter poverty unlike Matt has ever known.
Despite Jesse and Dickie’s status as outcasts, they become Matt’s closest friends in those early weeks, and part of the beauty of this story is the way in which moments of light-heartedness – of childhood innocence and idyll – float to the surface of waters muddied by the harsher realities of Jesse and Dickie’s lives. Then one night, with Dickie snoring ‘like a chainsaw with the croup’ in the background, Matt and Jesse exchange secrets and a promise. Unfortunately, some secrets are just too big to be contained.
In the present, Matt returns to Dogwood to find it's not so easy to talk to Jesse, and everyone, Jesse included, thinks it would be better if he just returned to Chicago and left the past in the past. And when he gets an emergency call to return to Chicago, he begins to think perhaps that would be best after all.
There was something really mesmerizing about this story. I was thoroughly immersed in the events taking place at whatever point I was reading, but at the same time, I could feel both the past and the present story lines building, piece by piece, drawing me like a magnet towards two climaxes that I knew I would not be able to fully predict. And even if you do venture to predict them, I can guarantee you will be second guessing yourself all the way to the end.
If you’re like me, you will likely have a mixture of emotions when the novel concludes. There is a sense in which I felt like this story closed just as another was ready to begin, but then that, too, is part of the magic of this story, and perhaps all our stories in a way. In any case, this is fabulous read – in some ways reminiscent of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer', and in others, a story all its own.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
- Paperback: 415 pages
- Publisher: Tyndale House Pub (1 July 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1414387776
- ISBN-13: 978-1414387772
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review