Sporty family deals with real loss
THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD By Maureen Johnson, Hot Key Books, softcover, $ 19.95
EVERYONE deals with grief and the fallout of loss in their own way.
When Mike Gold dies of a heart attack in the garage of their home, his three teenage daughters Brooks, May and Palmer, all named after baseball players, must find their way through the darkness on their own.
Their mother is so subsumed by grief and the need to work so they don’t lose the house, she simply isn’t there for her girls.
Brooks has taken up drinking with the same dedication and passion she once applied to softball, and Palmer, a gifted softball pitcher, lies in front of the blaring TV, or walks silently around the house, watching her sisters’ every move.
May, the reliable middle daughter, the one who never had the same sporting connection with her dad and who diligently works in a dreary coffee house to save money for college, hits the books harder and tries to reconcile to the notion her dad never felt the same pride in her as he did for her sporty sisters.
May is used to being self- reliant, but she needs to learn to drive – and she needs help. It unexpectedly comes in the form of Dave, the boy she’s grown up with, who it seems has spent his life making her’s a misery with his teasing and pranks.
But as he teaches her to drive her dad’s beloved Pontiac Firebird, May’s feelings for Dave take a surprising turn.
And when Palmer’s snooping results in a stunning find, the three girls find a way back to each other through a common cause that will finally start the healing process they desperately need.
The Key to the Golden Firebird is the debut novel by Maureen Johnson. It was first published in 2004 and was listed as a Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 2005.
Johnson handles the sisters’ despair with a light touch. Little analysis is given to Brooks’ and Palmer’s behaviour; they are simply quietly observed and it is left to the reader to make sense of them.
Similarly, while things definitely take a turn for the better by the end, not everything is neatly tied up with a bow – and the book is all the better for that.
BOY NOBODY By Allen Zadoff Orchard, softcover, $ 14.99
A 12- YEAR- OLD boy is taken by his parents’ murderers and trained to become a killer himself.
Meticulously trained by The Program to carry out assignments, the now 16- year- old has become the perfect soldier.
Stripped of emotion and devoid of friends or family, life is just a series of missions handed to him by his bosses, whom he calls Mother and Father.
He takes on a new alias, slips into a new town and stays long enough to build connections and carry out the hit before disappearing as quietly as he came, leaving his victim to be found dead from “natural causes”.
He makes no moral judgments of himself or the people he is sent to dispatch. He is quick, clean, efficient and he never gives the job another thought after it has been completed.
But his new assignment, to kill the mayor of New York, presents complications. The mayor reminds Ben – the alias the boy uses for this assignment – of his father.
And as the memories start to come back, so do the many questions he has never asked.
But memories and questions do not a good killer make. And with Mother and Father watching his every move, Ben knows he cannot afford to reveal any doubts.
To make matters worse, the mayor’s daughter Sam – smart, feisty, and of course, beautiful – adds another layer of complication Ben really doesn’t need. The more he starts to think and feel, the more we start to feel for him.
Wonderfully written, with taut, sparing prose, this is a cracker of a thriller. A compelling, if somewhat disturbing read. The way Ben murders people doesn’t seem to cause pain – but he is still a killer.
While this may not make this book one for everyone ( and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for younger teens), adults would most likely find it a compelling read.