Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: "The Spark and the Drive" by Wayne Harrison

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Seventeen-year-old Justin Bailey is growing up in a small, rural town just outside of Waterbury, Connecticut. Feeling socially isolated among his fellow high school students, Justin lands an internship at a garage owned by renowned mechanic Nick Campbell, famed for his ability to transform muscle cars into powerful machines.

In Nick, Justin finds a friend, a mentor, an inspiration, even a bit of a father figure, since his father moved out of the house a few years before. Nick encourages Justin's mechanical skills, finally guiding him in a direction for his future. Working alongside fellow mechanics Ray and Bobby, Justin begins to develop confidence, despite their good-natured teasing. And even though he is fiercely protective of his much-younger sister April and his mother, who is struggling with alcoholism, when Justin is with Nick, his wife Mary Ann, and their young son, he finally feels as if he belongs.

Yet when tragedy strikes Nick and Mary Ann, things change dramatically. For the first time, cars are returning to the garage requiring rechecks of work Nick performed, and the mechanics wonder whether this mechanic known across the country for his skills has lost his touch. As Justin tries to help Nick, he finds himself growing increasingly drawn to Mary Ann, whose emotional instability leads Justin to believe her marriage to Nick might be over. Justin is torn between the possibility of a relationship with Mary Ann and the idea of betraying the one man who has been consistently good to him.

Wayne Harrison is an excellent writer and while the elements of this plot may be familiar, his storytelling ability makes it tremendously compelling. This is a book about the dilemma between love and betrayal, about the emotional angst that the cusp of adulthood can bring, and of struggling to find your way in the world when you don't feel as if there is a place for you. While Justin's actions weren't always admirable, they were in keeping with a young man of 18 years old, and this only added to the depth and complexity of his character.

I really look forward to seeing what's next in Harrison's career. This was a book driven as much by talented writing as it was by plot, and I definitely hope it finds an audience.

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