Saturday, May 1, 2010
Some years ago, I signed up for the Leisure Horror Fiction Club. It’s a good deal; you get the two titles Leisure publishes each month at a reduced price and they come straight to you. I also had grand plans to read the two books as they came to me. By keeping to this, I reasoned, I would be exposed to new writers and get out of the comfort zone of reading writers already familiar to me. You know where good intentions lead, and real life got in the way. Soon I was hopelessly behind. One of the casualties of my lapse was a new writer named Nate Kenyon. He has been well-reviewed, but since I wasn’t familiar with his work, it was easy to place his book to the side for “later reading”. The problem compounded itself, and when the most recent shipment arrived, I realized I was holding Kenyon’s fourth published novel, Sparrow Rock. Even my sloth has limits, so I decided to read it to judge whether the positive buzz was deserved.
Sparrow Rock is set in the separate-but-attached, self-absorbed world of a small group of New England teenagers. Pete (the POV character) is the joker of the group, with a disabled mother, a dead father and a terrible secret. Jimmie is a screwup, but Pete’s best friend. Tessa is the girl next door, Jay the class brain, Big Sue who is sweet on Jay, and Dan, the jock and leader of the crew. On a fateful night, the group goes to an elaborate fallout shelter belonging to Big Sue’s grandfather, to drink, smoke dope and generally do what teenagers do.
It turns out the fallout shelter is the place to be, since while they are down there Armageddon arrives, in the form of a widespread nuclear assault. While everything above-ground is being obliterated, they are safe in the shelter. That isn’t the worst of it, however, since something else follows in the wake of the nuclear holocaust, something that wants into the shelter…and into them. The teens will soon be fighting this strange new menace as their fragile group dynamic crumbles under the strain.
In my opinion Sparrow Rock is well worth the hype. Maybe it could have been trimmed a bit (but then I think every books needs cutting these days) but the writing does a great job of projecting the claustrophobia of the shelter, and the growing sense of hopelessness of the survivors, who may not have been the lucky ones after all. There are some interesting revelations along the way, both personal ones from the group, and in things learned about the attack itself. Whenever I had to put it down, I thought about it, and looked forward to getting back to it. A page-turner, in other words.
So, if you haven’t read Nate Kenyon’s books, you should, and Sparrow Rock would be a good place to start. Me, I’m off to dig three more books from my to-be-read pile.
One irrelevant side: Part of the menace faced by the teens could be described as "zombie-ish" in nature, yet the Z word is not mentioned on the cover. Does this mean the zombie wave has crested? I sure hope so.