Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Literally the Best Reviews: Daredevils

Daredevils -- Shawn Vestal
Penguin Press
320 Pages

It’s another week, and another debut novel. I’m always on the lookout for good up and coming authors, so I regularly test the waters with new writers and their first books. So far, I’ve run across several first-time authors while checking the shelves at the Lockport Library. This week’s book, Daredevils, by Shawn Vestal fits into that same mold of a good first-time novel.
Loretta, the fifteen-year-old daughter of fundamentalist Mormons in Utah, is caught sneaking out at night to meet her boyfriend. Unfortunately for her, the boyfriend is not a member of the family’s sect. Loretta is married off to a cousin, Dean Harder, for whom she becomes a second wife. When Dean’s father dies, he returns to the family homestead to proclaim his rightful inheritance.

Back at the family homestead, Loretta is introduced as another cousin, although Dean’s brother guesses the truth. While being passed off as another family member, she is forced to attend the church school. Dean’s nephew, Jason, who is enthralled with the new girl, escorts her to the new school. With his friend, Boyd, they question her presence with outright infatuation.

At the same time, Jason is completely enthralled with Evel Knievel. Jason sees Knievel as mentor while he attempts to break free of the constraints of his Mormon religion. There’s adventure to be had beyond the confines of his community. The arrival of Loretta and her seeming acceptance of a chance to be free finally push Jason to strike out. On this journey, he meets his supposed hero, and sees beyond the gleam of his fantasy.

This book is a love story combined with a little bit of an adventure story and a whole lot of teenage subterfuge. Vestal writes a great story of kids testing the bounds put in place by their authority figures. We explore the coming of age of the three teens, Loretta, Jason, and Boyd, through their very different life experiences and expectations.

Vestal plies his trade across the broad canvas of Utah, with snippets of American history forming some of the backbone in this intriguing story. The adults in the story play mere background players, but provide action that the three young people can play off. The author deftly gives the reader a glimpse at the troubled times of being a teenager. Adding to that the religious undertones of a fundamental sect, we are given a recipe for disaster. And it is a wonderful disaster.

This book was fun to read, especially when we were introduced to Evel Knievel. Those odd little snippets pulled together the various tales of the young teens. There were moments that I was once again fifteen and questioning all authority. Isn’t that the best writing -- the ones where you can feel yourself as part of the story. Shawn Vestal has done this with Daredevils.

This is the second book in as many weeks by a first-time novelist who I have found to be extremely talented. Daredevils by Shawn Vestal is a well written book that will keep readers turning the pages to discover the fate of Loretta and Jason. And maybe see a little of ourselves in their awkwardness.

Craig Bacon tried to runaway once. He made it about 4 miles. In the snow. That was far enough.