by Bill Beverly
Crown Publishing | Apr 2016
Hardcover: 304 pages
Review Source: ARC trade paperback from First To Read and Crown Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.
Morning dawns over a Los Angeles suburb known as the “Boxes”. As the early sunlight focuses on the front door of a local drug house, the night U[sers] begin to straggle out of the building. They pass the young street urchins hired as “watchers”. Their only job is to stay alert, awake, and ready to call in an alarm if they observe anything happening in the vicinity of the drug house that seems out of the ordinary. These small gangsters know their jobs and know the rules. Watch everything and everyone! Report anything suspicious or out of place immediately! To mess up was dangerous to their health if not their lives.
As 15 year-old, East, lead watcher, stands guard in front of the building, he hears the sound of rapidly approaching vehicles just as his street scout’s radio squawks wordlessly. Something is wrong and there’s little time to warn anyone inside. Those able, scatter. The police arrive and mercilessly destroy the house in a hail of bullets; killing an innocent neighborhood child in the melee.
Gang members in charge of the drug house gather for a face-to-face accounting with the drug lord and East’s uncle, Fin.
Fin sat waiting…When he spoke, it was with an ominous softness. What happened? After listening to a report from those inside the house he makes a decision to temporarily close all of his drug houses. Fin dismisses everyone to set that order in motion -except East.
Get up and lock that door. I don’t want nobody walking in on us, what happens next…You wonder what comes next?
There is something you might do for me. You can say yes or no. But its quiet. We won’t talk about it…You keep it till you die.
I want you to go on a drive. At the end of that drive, I want you to do something…murder a man.
East drew in his shoulder and carefully dried his mouth on it… I’m in.
I know you are, said Fin…then shook his head twice, a long shudder…
East’s companions on this delicate mission are his 14 year-old gun-crazed estranged half-brother, Ty, the 20 year-old happy go-lucky devil-may-care, rule flaunting, up-and-comer, Michael Wilson, and the mysterious “pumpkin-shaped” 17 year-old computer geek, Walter. This motley crew of land pirates was hand selected by Fin and as they stand around awaiting their travel orders, it is obvious from the get-go that there is no love lost among the group.
As Ty, Michael, and Walter grouse about giving up their weapons, cell phones and bank cards and receiving new identities, East stands alone processing why he was made part of this group. The group has been told to “blend in”. Do nothing that would draw attention to themselves and the mission. Stay below the radar at all times. They are “family” headed to a family reunion in Wisconsin dressed in clearance rack Dodger baseball t-shirts.
In [East’s] mind he was boiling it down: Drive the roads. Meet up for guns. But there was nothing to see. Only these boys. Kill a man? More like keep them from killing each other, these three boys, for two thousand miles in this ugly van. That was what they’d brought him in for…
When all you know is the city, “The Boxes” – When you haven’t seen, let alone spoken to more than a handful of whites in your life and suddenly you stand out like black beans in white rice – When you are suspicious of every strange glance or conversation – When you have lived a life where you face danger 24/7…What could possibly go wrong? Answer- Everything.
Some books are just hard to know where to put your finger on what’s holding you back from expressing your thoughts and Dodgers fits that bill this time around. The book opens in a housing project where scared little boys find themselves “boxed” into a life determined for them in advance. We meet East and learn straight off that in a world with little hope for the future, East is an oddball out.
East blended in, didn’t talk much…but he watched and listened to people. What he heard he remembered. Unlike the [other boys], East slept alone, somewhere no one knew. He was no fun, and they respected him, for though he was young, he had none in him of what they most hated in themselves: their childishness. He had never been a child. Not that they had seen.
Throughout the cross-country trip to Wisconsin, East stands out as different. Although known for his observation skills, East doesn’t seem to grasp the reason that the other passengers in the car resent him and the mission. Not going to toss a spoiler with more information.
Testosterone and tensions build in the van. In the end, the group fractures. East finds himself alone, freezing, in the middle of a country as foreign to him as the moon. With little life experience, East doesn’t expect the world to give him a chance, so when he finds a job at a paintball store, he is satisfied to have a cardboard box mat in a warm building at night. He, again, fails to understand that he is entitled to so much more in life. Although East clearly has a criminal history, there is a part of his soul that is good. I ached for him and hoped that he would learn that he was free to grow and step outside the confines of his past life.
The good stuff? Watching East as he sees the beauty of America first hand. The author, in this debut work, has the American landscape so vividly described, you feel the depressed small villages, the heat in the desert, and the night sky giving way to dawn.
All East’s life the mountains had been a jagged base for the northern sky…He’d never seen them broken into what they were, single peaks dotted with plant scrub and rock litter, and the open distances between. He couldn’t stop looking…
The suspense and tension rises and falls in the story pulling the reader along. At times it bogs down, but it kept my attention. The violent scenes are tough and real.
One final observation. Boxes. Time and time again, East finds that no matter where you are in this world, people find themselves boxed by life. And he learns that no matter how far you try to outrun your past, it can find you.
Good reading and a good first book. I certainly look forward to future works by this author.