Happy Thursday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm reviewing The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson! This book isn't quite what I thought it was. I expected a typical YA contemporary, but it was a bit more teenaged noir, and I loved it!
YA/contemporary Thursday is where we review all of the latest and greatest contemporary titles!
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via Edeleweiss
Synopsis via publisher:
All that changes when a local cop refers Cali to a private investigator who is looking for a missing teenager. After all, Cali knows everyone in Venice. But the streets are filled with people who don't want to be found, and when he's hired to find the beautiful Reese Abernathy, who would do anything to stay hidden, Cali must decide where his loyalties truly lie.
However, once I began reading, I realized that Blake Nelson - a writer I had actually been unfamiliar with - had crafted an intriguing, thoughtful story that will get all readers, especially reluctant ones, very excited to read.
Things that worked:
Robert "Cali" Callahan is one of the most engaging narrators that I've read in contemporary fiction in quite some time. He has a no-holds barred attitude to his life on the streets, but he shares his experiences and observations in a way that will make the reader realize that this is also a young man with an insatiable curiosity for life.
Even when Cali runs into obstacles, he approaches them with a degree of teenaged optimism and bluntness - a certain awkward date comes to mind - that will engage readers, and make them root for him, regardless of what he's doing.
There are a number of memorable and well-drawn secondary characters as well. Even though many of these characters come in and out of Cali's story, I definitely think that they leave their mark on both Cali and the reader.
One of the biggest strengths of The Prince of Venice Beach, is how subtly Nelson incorporates Cali's coming-of-age story. When we first meet him, Cali's a fairly ordinary - if not innately talented - teen living on the streets of Venice Beach.
However, as the story progresses and Cali is drawn into his missing teenager case, we begin to see how the people that he meet and the encounters that he has, begin to influence his dreams and aspirations. Cali begins to hope for something different and concrete for his future, a desire which is beautifully emphasized by Nelson's careful attention to the writing, plotting and dialogue.
The way that Cali goes about gradually achieving his objective is just straight out aspiring, as well. Nelson makes it clear that for Cali and people like Cali, it's never too late to achieve what you aspire to be. Where there's a will, there is most definitely a way.
The heart of The Prince of Venice Beach involves a mystery that leads Cali all over Southern California. Much of the mystery appears to be inspired by classic noir - more on this later - and Nelson definitely takes his cue from classic noir structures, while also making the mystery his own.
The romance angle:
There are several romantic interests spread out throughout The Prince of Venice Beach, from primary to secondary characters. It not only adds to the mystery aspect of the book - see Things to Consider - but it's also a pretty poignant reminder that these teenagers, as careless and fun, as their street life may seem at times, are still young men and women who are starting to get comfortable with relationships and the opposite sex.
I've seen several reviews mention that they thought the ending felt a bit rushed or too neatly tied together, but I actually think it works very well with Cali's character arc. There is a sense of undefined possibility to Cali's future, which I think falls very much in line with the realization of hoped-for goals and ambitions that he has developed throughout the course of the book.
(For anything more detailed than that, you'll have to read the book!)
Things to consider:
I actually didn't think about this until I read someone else's review, but Nelson neither glamorizes or criticizes what it is to live on the streets. Instead, Nelson has Cali reflect very pragmatically on the necessary street smarts needed to survive this kind of life, while also admitting that it's not always easy, nor is it always permanent.
I think this very unique look into the teenaged homeless dilemma will inspire a lot of interesting questions between educators, parents and younger readers - e.g. what it means to live on the street; why kids end up the street and why some voluntarily choose that life.
Paying homage to the mystery/noir genre:
While I think The Prince of Venice Beach definitely stands on its own merits, I would recommend that any readers who are interested in doing so, familiarize themselves with the noir and mystery genres before they read this book.
Many of Blake's characters - e.g. the mysterious and beautiful Reese - are classic examples of mystery/noir characters, and familiarity with those genres will only enrich a person's reading experience.
(This is totally a personal preference though. :] )
I definitely recommend this for fans of YA contemporary fiction and mystery fans, but also for reluctant readers. This is one of those tales that is so subtly engaging, you'll have reluctant readers beginning and finishing this book, before they've even realized it!
About the author:
His highly anticipated new Young Adult novel THE PRINCE OF VENICE BEACH will be published in June 2014.