I just finished reading Nate Kenyon’s latest novel, Sparrow Rock, a story of a group of high school kids who find themselves trapped in a bomb shelter by accident just as the end of the world arrives. Read the official synopsis from Nate’s site.
The novel has received excellent reviews at multiple sites, and I think the praise is well-deserved. Kenyon has produced a fast-paced, engaging tale of survival. This is the second book I’ve read by Kenyon. I read Bloodstone some months back as a sample of a first novel, but have yet to get to a post on it. I thought it an excellent tale as well, and I will keep his work at the top of my list from here on out.
Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the book, you might want to read this later.
What I found most interesting about Sparrow Rock was Kenyon’s choice of point of view. The tale is told in first person, and while it’s not all that rare, I wondered immediately why Kenyon made that choice. And about half-way through, I reached an “ah-ha” moment.
Pete, the main and POV character, is trapped with his friends, but there’s one friend he’s particularly close to: Tessa. Pete killed his abuse father years earlier (yes, the guy deserved it) and Tessa helped him recover his sanity after the incident. Summing it up like that, I’m sure you can guess why Nate choose first-person. Tessa is a figment of Pete’s imagination, and to have told the story any other way would have ruined her part in the tale.
I’m not a big fan of alternate personalities in stories. It think it can and has been done well–King’s The Dark Half, where you know pretty much from the get-go. But I also think it’s an over-used device across the board–movies, TV, books. But here, Kenyon pulls it off and in such a way that it adds value to the story without feeling trite or cliché. A big part of my turn-off to the alternate personality is that too often the reader is kept in the dark until the end, where the big reveal relies on reader surprise to “It was me all along!” The story hinges on the fact that the reader doesn’t know until just the right moment, and if the reader knows too soon, the gig is up and the book gets put down or the TV gets turned off. Blech. Enough already.
However, Sparrow Rock doesn’t hinge on this. Tessa is an intricate part of how Pete behaves, but she is not a key part of why he survives. And she definitely played no part in the events that lead up to the apocalypse. She’s just an aspect of his character hewn from the trauma of killing his father. She’s a part of what makes him interesting, a key to his internal conflict.
I recall the exact moment I realized she was imaginary. The kids all vacate the shelter’s bedroom when they discover a huge mosquito that had been feeding on one of them (disgusting and awesome!). They run into the shelter’s dining area and lock the door, and Pete realizes that Tessa is missing. He busts back into the bedroom, kills the mosquito, only to see Tessa standing behind the other kids in the dining area. In that moment, I realized that only Pete ever spoke to Tessa. None of the other characters ever acknowledged her presence, but they did respond to Pete at times as if he’d lost his mind, usually just after he had spoken to Tessa.
Pete acknowledges later in the narrative that she’s imaginary, and part of his coming to grips with killing his father is to abandon her as a support system. She helps him survive, she’s harmless to the others (in fact, early on Pete talks about how she helped change bandages on one of the other kids), and she helps the reader understand just how broken he is. I think, in the end, Pete’s survival is all the more merited because he’s not only fought the crazy, postapocalyptic bugs, but because he’s had to work though an issue he had resigned to living with long before the story starts.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for postapocalyptic horror. I can’t wait to read more of Kenyon’s work. He’s definitely earned my respect as a writer.