The Harrison lodge is full of hiding places where young Kate can discover all the secrets no one wants her to know.Eleven-year-old Kate keeps her knowledge to herself—one sister’s stash of marijuana, the other’s petty cash pilfering, her grandfather’s contraband candy bars. She protects her mother and Gran, too, screening out critical comments from the hotel suggestions box. But suddenly the stakes are raised; her grandfather’s best friend is murdered the day after Kate heard the two men arguing.
At the same time, far from the quiet mountain resort, a homeless man sees a robbery gone wrong . . . a gang member seeks revenge for the death of his son . . . and a boy chooses the worst time to wield spray paint on a store window. In a strange and spiraling sequence of events, their disparate worlds collide at Harrison Lodge.
Kate offers shelter to one of them, unaware of the terrible consequences to the family she loves. But people can hide in all kinds of ways, sometimes even in plain sight . . . and some secrets are just waiting to be exposed.
~from back cover
While I've heard Erin Healy's books discussed around the book blogosphere a fair amount, this is my first try at experiencing her writing. I was a little hesitant getting into this one after reading the back cover because I couldn't help thinking wow, that sounds like a lot trying to get crammed into one storyline. Sure enough, by novel's end I still felt that way. It wasn't an absolutely terrible novel necessarily, the writing style itself is solid. I think it was more just everything Healy tries to work into the plot ended up not working for me as a reader. There were just so many different directions trying to merge that the whole lot ended up feeling kinda muddled.
First we have 11 year old Kate, whose family owns and runs Harrison Lodge, a Colorado mountain retreat. She is the sort of kid that tends to just stay in the background of things because that's where her family seems to keep her. Her mother is mostly absentee parenting, her sisters either ignore or torment her, her grandmother is never quite satisfied with her. Kate's most positive interactions are with her grandfather Grandy and great-grandmother Pearl. But even Grandy starts acting odd, clearly hiding some major secret from the rest of the family. This family though. A whole novel could have been made just around this family's dramas!
So Kate becomes that character that, because she's driven to the proverbial shadows, she becomes privy to the secrets of everyone around her, just by being silent and unseen. She's also inspired by her love of Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Kate's ability to go unnoticed comes in handy when she discovers an injured man in the woods, deciding to get him to a secret place in the lodge where she can help him heal. This tender-heartedness is also displayed in the way she goes behind her grandmother's back to help a family in need (the stingy grandmother going the route of we're not running a shelter here). Multiple times we see Kate offering assistance to the hurting and hungry, which I really liked. Kate seems to be the ballast, of sorts, in an otherwise shaky environment. I also really enjoyed her relationship with her great-grandmother Pearl, and Pearl herself is a pretty fun character!
Sidenote regarding Kate's family: One thing that really bothered me about this book's design was how there is nothing on the cover or synopsis that discusses the fact that Kate and her family are Japanese-Americans. In fact, there's clearly a white girl on the cover. Though I am not Japanese myself, I still feel it does a disservice to readers, who want to see people of their particular race / culture featured in a storyline, not to mention this anywhere within the book's synopsis or design, at least when it comes to a main character. That's just my mini-rant there, but back to the story itself.
The other major plot point (though there feels like half a dozen tiny veins of sub-plots running through) involves a gang leader who calls himself The Fox. There's a pothead character that's introduced prior to the reader meeting The Fox (one of those side stories that runs into the main one later) that -- now, I got a little confused keeping it all straight at this point -- I think unwittingly gets himself mixed up in some gang activity involving a family member of The Fox. Doesn't end well for the family member, but pothead guy walks away (but more like on the run now). So now we have The Fox hunting this guy down. Which leads everyone back to the Harrison Lodge. So yeah, everyone's problems and criminal activity intersect at this lodge, things get ugly, lots of yelling, more hiding, some hostage situations, cops get involved... just an unpleasant night all around. And just for good measure, since my head wasn't quite befuddled enough apparently, Healy also works in talk of the Yakuza and what's this about the lodge maybe being haunted as well?! Ugh. Too many thoughts in the room for me.
Aside from the plot getting confusing and muddled, I didn't find too many of the characters that compelling or complex, except for Pearl & Kate. Also, the dialogue was not fantastic. Again, not horrible, but it wasn't helping drive the story as I'd hoped. So this one was a bit of a dud for me, but if you've read Healy's stuff previously and liked it, by all means check this one out and see what you think.
FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.