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Life is looking pretty bleak to fifteen-year-old Mickey Bolitar. In addition to watching his father die in a car crash and admitting his mother to drug rehab, he has had to move in with his uncle, Myron Bolitar, whom he hates. The move to a new town means he has to start his sophomore year at a new high school, where the only person he knows is Ashley, a girl he met at orientation. On top of all that, the Bat Lady, the town's infamous recluse, drops a bombshell of a revelation on him: "Your father isn't dead."
Mickey knows his father is dead because he saw him die. He broods over the Bat Lady's meaning during the first few days of school while, at the same time, trying to thread his way through the social obstacle course of high school life. A top basketball player, Mickey draws the taunts and threats of current players who fear he'll displace them. Shunned as an outsider, Mickey soon becomes friends with two of the school's other outcasts, a computer geek whom Mickey nicknames Spoon and a Goth girl called Ema. Then Ashley suddenly stops coming to school. Not ready to lose yet another person he cares for, Mickey forgets about the Bat Lady as he and his friends search for Ashley. And when they learn that Ashley isn't who she seemed to be, they are drawn more and more deeply into a conspiracy that dwarfs the tribulations of high school.
Coben, the father of four children, has nailed the adolescent angst of the high school experience in this coming-of-age novel. Yet what Mickey learns transcends his high school world. He has to learn about life's larger issues: about family and friendship, about trust and caring and responsibility, and about both the fallibility and the resilience of the human spirit.
Shelter is the first installment of a projected young adult (YA) series. Although this novel has its own sense of closure, there are plenty of unanswered questions here to be explored in future books: Why is Mickey's new friend Ema so evasive about her home life? Will Mickey's mother succeed in rehab? How will the uneasy relationship between Mickey and his uncle develop? What role will Mickey's basketball buddy Tyrell's father, an investigator for the prosecutor's office, play in the future? And what did the Bat Lady mean?
Adults should not let this novel's YA label scare them off. Except for the main character's age and some teenage speech mannerisms, readers won't notice much difference between Shelter and the taut thrillers they have come to expect from Harlan Coben.
© 2011 by Mary Daniels Brown
Mary Daniels Brown completed the coursework for a doctorate in English and American literature before shifting gears and receiving her doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University. She regularly writes and blogs about books and reading at Notes in the Margin: http://notesinthemargin.org
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