Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Harbinger is a Young Adult novel that examines the nature of truth, lies, and in a greater context, our view of reality. The story opens in a tattoo parlor where four kids have decided to get matching tattoos, except something happens just as the last kid, our narrator, is about to sit down for his. The four teens decide to escape to a remote cabin in the deep in the forest for a weekend of fun. As you can imagine, fun quickly turns to trouble as the towns people act in a hostile manner towards them and little things start happening: their satellite phone, the only link to the outside, goes missing and their car becomes disabled. Just when you think this is like so many other “locked room” mysteries with dead bodies piling up with no plausible explanation as to the culprit, author Harbinger adds another spin to the narrative. Not wanting to spoil the ending, this reader felt it was a bit too contrived and there was insufficient evidence given during the body of the narrative for the reader to have figured any of it out. If you like that sort of “final chapter reveal” you will love this one. This reader, however, in the end was not convinced by the motive given for the violence.
In addition to the plot line, the story also addresses the life, loves, and concerns of a gay teen couple. Harbinger, who founded a LGBT youth support group in his home town of Tacoma, Washington, has the credibility to successfully tackle this subject in a YA novel. I appreciated the scenes that illustrated the boys’ affection for each other and the insight it provided to “outside” readers, but felt some of the more sexually explicit scenes seemed included to make a point more than to flesh out a character or move a plot point. Overall, the writing is engaging, the voice of the narrator is strong, and the plot moves at a brisk pace.
“Kelcie” by Frank Kovalchek
Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters is a story about looks being deceiving. It centers around a young middle schooler, Antonia, who is selected by the guidance office to provide peer counseling to troubled fellow student, Jasmine “Jazz” Luther. Antonia is immediately put off by the girls looks — piercings, black lipstick, tattoos — and assumes she’s unintelligent, sub-human, and trouble. As the story unfolds, we learn that it is Antonia — a model straight A student, who is struggling with a home life that’s falling apart: her dad has deserted the family and her mother is increasingly dysfunctional. Antonia, left to pick up the slack for her two young brothers, tries to hide the facts from neighbors and school officials and refuses to ask for help. Despite their differences, the girls begin to trust one another. Antonia discovers that Jazz lives in a mansion and is a gifted classical pianist. Jazz, on the other hand, takes part in supporting Antonia when she and her brothers are sent to live in a foster home. The author, Peters, weaves a masterful portrayal of Antonia’s mother’s descent into crippling depression. Although the book is a bit dated, it is a fast and enjoyable read. Peters, who has made her mark in the young adult fiction scene with stories about struggles faced by gay/lesbian teens, made the characters in this story, however, a bit too stereotypical. The “good girl” Antonia is too naive and often talks like a middle-aged woman, whereas the “bad girl” Jazz trots out all the clichéd bagged of a teen rebelling against her parents. I also question the age of the girls, who are supposed to be 8th grade middle schoolers. The fact that Jazz sports tattoos and such without parental permission is questionable, and some of their activities seem more appropriate to high school. Overall, a good story that kept this reader engaged.
I picked up the classic horror story “Something Wicked This Way Comes” from the master story teller Ray Bradbury expecting to be chilled by this well-known tale. Instead, I was…well…bored. Don’t get me wrong, the plot of the story, which follows two 12-year-old boys’ encounter with a demonic troop of carnival people, is pretty frightening. I especially am creeped out by anything to do with circuses, carnivals, or the like, and this one had its particular dark characters: Mr Dark, the Illustrated Man, who is tattooed with the likenesses of the souls he has snatched, the Blind Dust Witch who can with a mere suggestion stop your heart, Mr. Electro who is dead one moment and alive the next. When this dark band of soulless misfits arrive in the small Mid-Western town, the boys discover their dark connections, but are convinced no one will believe what they have witnessed. And what they have witnessed is the basis of many subsequent horror tales, for the message is clear that one should be careful what one wishes, for it might come true. The weakness of the story now is the language. The boys’ exclamations and dialogue is so stilted and unrealistic as to be laughable. Bradbury stretches his thesaurus to its limit in reaching for every word to describe a storm, or the witch, or the fear of aging, or whatever topic is at hand to the point that I found myself flipping pages and skimming paragraphs just to get on with it. His lexicon is almost Gogolian, in that he seems to use words in unusual or incorrect ways, but after a few chapters it is just tedious. This is a classic which for this reader has not stood the test of time. Perhaps we should put the book on the magical carousel and spin in backwards?