Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Shark Curtain by Chris Scofield (2015)

I got my copy of The Shark Curtain by Chris Scofield (2015) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, which always seems to algorithmically know which books I'm going to like. 

This is a coming-of-age novel set in 1960s Portland, Oregon. Our blossoming teenager, Lily Asher, however, isn't the usual teen protagonist. She counts things. She barks. She is pretty sure she is growing a tail, but she tries to hide it. Jesus appears to her frequently, doing things like fishing, skateboarding, or driving a cab. Her family consists of a beautiful, artistic mother (who was sent away from her native Romania by her Jewish parents at the start of the second world war), and a funny and supportive father (who has a gambling and anger problem), as well as a spunky little sister who tries to pretend everything around her is absolutely normal, even when it's not.

This sounds a little cutsey when I type it out, but Scofield does a great job of balancing Lily's mental quirks and unstable family life with healthy doses of reality, feeling, and humanity. Rather than becoming a punchline or a metaphor, Lily is a complicated, three dimensional character with an awareness of her oddness and no easy answers for fitting into the world around her. The book deals with death, mental illness, the Holocaust, religion, sexual abuse, and more, but doesn't let itself get bogged down into the predictability of a message novel. Just as readable for a 13 year old as a 43 year old, this is a young adult novel that doesn't pander with rich and well-rounded characters and a moving and rewarding plot. This is Scofield's first published novel, but I'd love to read her short stories and I'm excited to see what she does next.

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