Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book Review: In the Break

Title: In the Break
Author: Jack Lopez
Genre: YA Literary Fiction
Rating: B+

Abbreviated Summary (from This captivating novel by an author who is a surfer is about surfing, adolescence, friendship, and loyalty. The main character, Juan, is an intense young man making his way toward adulthood amidst all the struggles, angst, and joy of life. Surf lovers will take great delight in Juan's quest for "the" perfect wave, which leads him and his pals to La Isla de los Delfins, where they share the most amazing surf with hundreds of dolphins. Ordinarily he prefers to snatch sleep on the floor of the shower, pelted by the water, undisturbed by his family. But Juan, true and loyal to his best friend, Jamie, and Jamie's sister, flees on an extreme adventure that he describes as one parallel to something penned by Twain, "my mom's 4Runner our raft, the Pacific our Mississippi," where his bed is often the seat of the car or the ground itself.

Review: I'm going to be honest, I picked this book up because Jack Lopez is a client of Nathan Bransford, a literary agent who runs this fantastic blog that I read every day. I wanted to get a flavor for what kinds of book he likes in the YA genre... what gets him to say "Yes," to a query and wanting to read more. I have to say I was surprised, I actually hated the beginning of the book, it totally dragged for me (and not just because it's about surfing... more about that later), but because I didn't find it to be very well written. The story line was essentially intriguing, but Lopez assumed we'd care about the conflict with Jamie and his stepdad, F. I didn't intrinsically care, which made for tough reading. I had to force myself to read the book early on, almost as an assignment to myself.

Later in the book Lopez gets into the Jamie/F dynamic and it was really interesting, and I wished that that had been at the beginning to make me care about Jamie. Also, the Jamie/Juan dynamic is awesome (later in the book), fleshed out with stories about their shared childhood, and that should have been hinted at or brought out earlier (so I would have cared).

In regard to the whole premise of using surfing as a plot device/motif, I have essentially zero knowledge of surfing, it's culture, etc., but Lopez did a really good job with that. He made me understand so I was in the tube with Juan, I was waiting in line for a set with him. I got it.

The ending isn't at all what I wanted, but it was poignant and I literally had a lump in my throat while reading. None the less, Lopez gets a little heavy-handed with his descriptions and musings in the last 20 pages and I found myself skimming those parts to get at the real meat of what was happening and how Juan felt about it.

My final critique is in regard to Lopez's actual word choice. He does this weird thing where he weaves together surfing lingo, cussing, laid back chatter, and then Prince George-era English. Seriously, he uses the word "for" as a replacement for "because" like he got paid on commission by the word "for." An example for you: "Lopez wrote awkward sentences, for he had a deep love of the word 'for.'" Weird. Just write "because." Seriously, every time he used it (which was a ton of instances) I felt like I was being stabbed, for it broke my heart that he ruined otherwise perfectly good prose.

The book earned a B+ rating because the premise was good, the characters were strong, the ending was moving, but it wasn't executed as well as it could have been.

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