“Shelter” by Harlan Coben

11 Jun


And so begin reviews from my Book Expo America haul of ARCs. Woot!

"Shelter," which publishes in September 2011, is bestselling adult author Harlan Coben's first novel for teens. I was thrilled to get an advanced copy of "Shelter" at BEA. I've read a bunch of Coben's adult novels and was excited / anxious to see if his style would translate for YA. Rest assured, he hits this one right out of the park. "Shelter" is a brisk, action-laden mystery with a surprising bit of depth and realism. I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it!

We're following Mickey Bolitar, a tall, muscular 15 year old, who has come to my home state of Jersey to live with his Uncle Myron (Myron Bolitar is the star of his own set of mysteries for adults; check them out!). Mickey's father was killed in a traffic accident in California — Mickey was a passenger and eye witness to the horror — and his mom is an addict in treatment. Myron provides Mickey with plenty of space, which helps the exceedingly independent Mickey grudgingly adjust to his new life. Mickey's folks worked for an international charitable organization called the Abeona Shelter, so Mickey has lived pretty much all over the world and learned long ago to take care of himself.

As a lonely, hurt Mickey starts his new high school, he quickly falls for fellow new student Ashley. Mere weeks later, Mickey is stunned to discover that not only has Ashley vanished, much of what he knew about her was a lie. On his own, Mickey begins to investigate Ashley's disappearance, which leads him to befriend two truly awesome characters: tough goth girl Ema and super nerd Spoon. I cannot overstate how much I loved Ema! Ema's a big girl with a sullen exterior who is lugging around her own set of mysteries (where she lives, how she got so many tattoos, who her parents are, etc.). But she's also fiercely loyal, sharp tongued, and resourceful, making her a perfect partner in crime for Mickey. I absolutely adored the friendship between these two unlikely pals. Their shared insecurities and strengths, and the bond they form, felt utterly real to me. Our boy Spoon, the geeky son of the school janitor, provides comic relief as well as some surprisingly solid detective skills.

Mickey and the gang's investigation keeps leading them back to the Bat Lady, a spooky neighborhood woman who lives a shadow life and whose decrepit house has frightened off children for years. Remember Boo Radley, the boogeyman in "To Kill a Mockingbird"? That's exactly how the Bat Lady is viewed. Because the Bat Lady has told Mickey that his father is alive, Mickey has personal reasons, beyond finding Ashley, for learning more about this strange old woman. With Ema's help, Mickey breaks into the Bat Lady's house and finds an image containing an elaborate butterfly … the same butterfly that marks his father's grave and is hidden within one of Ema's tattoos. Cool! As Mickey teases out more clues, he follows a trail that leads him to a guy with a tattooed face, a violent strip club owner, and a bald government agent who seems to be following him around. Again, cool!

I can't reveal more about the Bat Lady or what Mickey and his friends ultimately discover, because it's a shocker. I can say that the book takes a deep, emotionally wrought turn that grounds the story in one of the most appalling incidents in modern history. There's a theme here about our inherent obligation to help and sacrifice for others that is both thought provoking and beautifully depicted. We're also left with a whiz-bang cliffhanger, which nicely sets up book number two. I cannot wait.

"Shelter" has loads of action — the climactic fight scene alone is a doozy — as well as ample heart, humor, and intelligence. All the clues along the way fit together in a manner I never would have predicted, but which resonated with me long after the story ended. "Shelter" is a perfect novel for boys and girls who are fans of mysteries and adventures, because it nicely meshes the best elements of both genres. I'd put this book squarely into the upper middle school range (solely based on the suspense level and violence), but see what you think. This smart, twisty thriller is sure to gain Harlen Coben a whole new audience of devoted young fans. "Shelter" publishes in September 2011. Until then, you can read an excerpt here. Enjoy!

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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


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