Reference “Judge, 28th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards”
The story opens with a detailed and relatable buffet of bullying, with name-calling and the “game” of not letting him back in the car, always moving up just a little bit. Author breathes life into this scene and creates a gripping theme. This book is going to infuriate us, as well it should. Author has chosen to describe scenes, such as Harlen being left in the street initially, with an effective conciseness that carries more depth than if he had over-described it. Very good instinct. Author masters writing push-and-pull dynamics that are so essential to this story. Much of it is internal dialogue and internal processing that is very well delivered in a movement and – so brilliantly! – author saying what he *wished* he could do. Author writes settings well, imbuing them with sensory details. Again, subtle but wonderful. As an example, we get “geometric rows of citrus trees,” which we can see, and which have movement. Author could have said “rows of citrus trees,” but he elevated the scene with “geometric.” It’s these kinds of well-crafted descriptions that add magic and movement to settings. Very well done. Dialogue impresses as well, with so much emotion in spoken scenes. We get author’s restraint, and we get other officers’ voices soaked with hate. Again, author makes character voices rich and differentiated with a minimum of explanation. He’s inviting reader into the process, allowing us to process some of the scenes ourselves, and we trust this author enough to paint within the lines. Very well done. Author excels at crafting an experiential story, one that grips our emotions and jabs us with reality. Mama stands out in fine detail: her work, her protection of her family, her lessons in decency. Every time we get to read about her, we’re happy to find out more about her. She’s a name we look forward to. I loved the author’s change in format to switching point of view with the fire scene on page 207. This format allows us to get more detail, to see more, to alternate the intense energy of the fire. Author’s talent for description paired with these alternating views and voices enlivens the scene and captures the surreal quality of a fire emergency. I’ll probably never be able to unsee “the baby looked like he was melting,” but I hold that moment up as a triumph of the author’s voice and grasp on the reader’s soul. I feel so many things from this book, and I’m going to think about it for a long time. I hope this talented author who took on such an enormous topic now will continue to write. I admire his instinct for knowing just how much detail, and which words, are needed. Great work.