Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Wild and Crooked, by Leah Thomas. Bloomsbury, 2019

When Kalyn’s grandmother has a stroke, she and her unstable mother must move back to the small town Kalyn was born in. Due to circumstances, Kalyn enrolls into high school under an assumed name, Rose. Her last name, Spence, is dirt in this town; her teenaged father killed another teen, the high school hero, and has been in jail ever since.

Kalyn also takes on an assumed personality; normally foul mouthed and in your face, she now braids her wild hair and becomes a total sweetie pie, a girl acceptable to all, including the ‘cool’ girls. But she soon becomes best friends with Gus, a young man with cerebral palsy which gives him hemiplegia and a speech impediment. These two couldn’t be any different; Kalyn’s mother doesn’t care about her, while Gus’s mother is over protective, constantly treated Gus as fragile and younger than he really is. And, worst of all, Gus’s late father was the person Kalyn’s father killed. Gus’s mother keeps the house decorated as a shrine to the man. But to everyone’s surprise, when the truth comes out and they realize who the other is, they stay friends. Then there is Phil, Gus’s best friend, who is a self-declared sociopath. These three take turns narrating, as they find out that there is a chance that Kalyn’s father didn’t kill Gus’s dad, and seek to prove it. Like many small towns, this one has a story that it has hidden for years.

The first part is extremely slow as we get to know Gus and Kalyn. The story is almost totally character driven. There is a lot of queer representation, with Kalyn being gay, Gus being pan, and Gus’s mother married to a woman, but that is not the focus of the story, any more than Gus’s CP is. They are simply traits of the characters, as it is in real life. What is an important part of the story is classism: Kalyn’s father was poor, his family owning and living at the town junkyard, while the boy he killed was the town’s golden boy: well to do, football star, headed for college. The town closed ranks against any effort to find the truth about the murder. For once, the boy-girl relationship was strictly friendship, which I found very refreshing. I really liked the writing style, other than the slowness. Four stars.

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