Brett McBean is an Australian novelist, but writes like an American. In fact, his prose reminded me a great deal of Stephen King and his story, “The Body” (aka Stand By Me) and Robert McCammon’s A Boy’s Life. This is excellent company to be in. You also get the idea of how well-written this novel is.
In the introduction to The Awakening, Ray Garton says he was halfway through the novel before he finally understood what it was about. I didn’t really understand that comment until I reached the halfway mark in the book and realized how right Mr. Garton was. The thing is you can so caught up in the story of two young teenagers and their summer-school break that you fail to see very little has happened up to that point. That’s not bad, but rather the opposite when you’re used to fast-paced movies and novels where something is happening every few seconds.
The story is about Toby Fairchild, his best friend, Frankie, and the girl Toby falls in love with, Gloria. Or, lest I forget, the plot also centers on the old man from Haiti, Mr. Joseph, who lives just down the street from the young whipper snapper.
Everything takes place in the small Midwestern town of Belford. The thing about small towns (I know because I lived in one) is that everybody knows each other’s business for the most part. Of course, every town has its dark secrets of racism, murder, adultery, alcoholism, kinky sex, wild kids, and maybe even the paranormal.
Belford certainly does.
Many of the town’s people, especially the teenagers like to terrorize old man Joseph. He lives and stays by himself. Each morning as he watches the sun come up, he also takes in the children going to school, who seem so innocent and free of life’s problems. Because of this, the older kids like to break his windows, paint his house, and leave dead chickens on his front porch.
Toby sees this being done one night from his bedroom window. Even worse, Toby allows himself to be talked into doing the same thing by his friend, Frankie. The only difference between the two boys is that Toby feels guilty afterwards and attempts to make amends with Mr. Joseph.
Unfortunately, tragedy strikes Toby and Frankie. Part of it is because they witnessed something they weren’t supposed to see and also because they dared to challenge the king-pin of the teenage gang that roams the town. Mr. Joseph saves Toby’s life, and from that point on, they become uncommon friends and supporters of each other.
For Toby, this is only the tip of the iceberg as he slowly finds out about Mr. Joseph’s past in Haiti and realizes the same people who tried to kill him before are now back with a vengeance, and Mr. Joseph might be the only person who can help him survive another attack.
As I wrote at the beginning, Brett McBean’s writing style is reminiscent of Stephen King, and I mean that in a good way. I certainly wish I could write as good as the Maestro or McBean. The author is somehow able to create two very vibrant teenagers who come to life in a way that reminded me of my own youth and the kids I hung out with during summer break. The reader clearly experiences the day-to-day living in small-town America in a way that takes you back to similar times during the fifties and early sixties. Often, the highlight of the day was simply riding your bicycle around the town, or throwing water balloons at passing cars, or falling in love with the girl of your dreams.
The author is able to capture the location, the lovely summer vistas, the quietness of the community, the unexpected hate and brutality of what people can do to those who are different, and the simple life of what kids will do to fill their summer days, in such a unique and profound manner that you feel yourself living inside of each page. The Awakening is a book you live, and not just read.
This is the magic of Brett McBean. I’d never heard of this author before The Awakening. Still, this is a writer who knows his craft inside and out. He has the gift for being able to create believable characters that are complex, tension-filled suspense, twists and turns that leave the reader wanting more. Even the final conclusion to a nearly 500-page novel satisfies you in such a way that you find yourself wanting to find other stories by this amazing new author.
One of the great things about this signed, limited edition, and there are many, is the low price of it. Forty dollars is nothing to pay when other novels of this type are going for sixty and seventy-five dollars a pop. This is a great deal. Imagine being able to get a signed, limited edition of Carrie for forty dollars before Stephen King was even known to the world? Also, the illustrations by Erin Wells are certainly worth the price of admission. This is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.
All in all, buying and reading The Awakening was a pleasant experience I hope to repeat in the near future.