A Worthy Read
By Laura Kelly Robb
Mark House Publishing, $4.99, 270 pages
Augie and his siblings know about the dangers of the waters surrounding their home in the San Juan Islands. Dark and icy and always changeable, it can make and break fortunes in equal measure. The only thing more treacherous in their lives is their Pop. Mercurial, disapproving and dangerous, the children tiptoe around their father to avoid attention as they simultaneously search for any sign of approval or love. Mostly they try to avoid him.
The story centers on Augie and follows him as he engages in schemes to make money, deals with sudden tragedy and tries to keep the family going. Interwoven into the main narrative is a second story of two Chinese immigrants found dead and bound together. The two separate stories weave together as Augie slowly finds out more about his town and his father.
China Rock by Laura Kelly Robb is a novel that is stark, vividly written and utterly compelling. From the first words, she creates a world for the reader that is so descriptive it draws them into the story. She nicely sets up an atmosphere for the story that is dark, foreboding and mysterious. This set-up nicely mirrors the family’s experience of Pop, as well – as with the Sound, they must always be vigilant against his very real threat of danger. The family dynamics in the book are unveiled in small increments and show the trepidation, fear and intense longing for approval that the family has with Pop. He is the most important part of the family (and makes sure everyone knows it) and his presence fills the book, even when he is not the focus of the storyline. The story within the story of the Chinese immigrants works well for several reasons: it serves as a nice vehicle for Augie to realize that the people and town he has grown up with has more dark secrets than he could have imagined and helps enhance the sense of mystery and discontent throughout the book. The book nicely shows Augie’s journey from young teen into young adult during his search for understanding of his father and himself. This is a noteworthy debut novel that shouldn’t be missed.
Reviewed by Barbra Cothern