CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 30 . . . . April 6, 2012
Fifteen-year-old Henry Thelonius Hollaway has every reason to be bitter. His mother died, leaving him in the custody of his criminal uncle. The criminal uncle has gone to jail, leaving him in the custody of con artist Cindy. Con artist Cindy has moved to Las Vegas for work, leaving Henry, alone and living in the tree house of a lonely, elderly lady. Not wanting his uncle to worry, Henry has constructed an ideal foster family for himself while, in reality, he is breaking into homes and stealing what he needs to survive. In addition to stealing what he needs, Henry often tidies up the place or leaves a little extra cash to help out with special events in his "patron's" lives. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Henry is caught in a patron's bathrobe and is sent to live with the Wingates in Snowflake Falls. The purpose of this relocation is to provide Henry with a second chance, an opportunity to rehabilitate. What Henry discovers is that everyone's life is complicated and moral decisions are never easy or clean.
It is almost impossible not to like Henry Hollaway. He tells the reader that he has "decided to try a little experiment. While writing my story, I'm going to be one-hundred-percent honest. You never know. I might even get to like it." His honesty is disarming. He describes living with a houseful of criminals who epitomize "honour among thieves." He grieves for his mother who died of lung cancer from second hand smoke in a piano bar. When he goes to live with the Wingates, his acute observation skills allow him to provide the reader with a poignant view of a family with many secrets. Mr. Wingate is the owner of a small department store that is under attack by the opening of Biggie's Bargin Barn. Eleven-year-old Charlotte is an overbearing genius, while her younger brother, two-year-old Oscar, finds his place by screaming. As Henry describes them:
During Henry's stay in Snowflake Falls, he is "encouraged" to find honest work as both a paperboy and a fast food clerk. With both jobs, he crosses paths with George Dial. George is the town nerd, the manager at Top Kow Burgers, a speed freak, and so lonely that he gave himself his own nickname, "Speed" Dial. George considers Henry a way to achieve bad boy popularity, and Henry reluctantly obliges by using his old skills to help George steal a monster truck and impress a girl. This stunt earns Henry community service where he spends time reading to the town "rich guy." Further complicating Henry's life is the arrival of Uncle Andy and his associates. They hope to use Henry's connections to pull the biggest heist of their lives so they can retire from the business.
There are no heroes in this book, but the characters are all so likable. They do what they have to do to survive their own lives, often at the expense of their pride. Henry's retelling of some of these moments is cringe-worthy at times but always entertaining and insightful. Henry's description of the rules that govern his uncle's house of associates is particularly thought-provoking. Lekich has provided Henry with an engaging story and a powerful voice. He has created a novel that has both a retro feel and contemporary issues. The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls is an enjoyable novel that is actually a nice change from many of the dark young adolescence themes found in many of the other books I have recently read. Lekich writes in a way that makes readers think that they are reading a light comedy, and yet nothing about Henry's life is particularly funny.
While the reader must suspend some disbelief in order to accept that Henry is able to maintain such a decent essence about him, the suspension is well worth the effort. Throughout the novel, Lekich encourages us to think we can predict what will happen and then always surprises us. While we are left unsure of Henry's next steps, we feel confident that he has a bright and happy future.
Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba.
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