by Steve Godofsky
2009, Mayfair Books
This novel is set in Lake Monroe, upstate New York, and involves an evolving set of relationships forged among a group of 17-year olds during summer vacation. It reminds me a bit of 'Happy Days', but with a more modern feel, and quite a few raw edges. The book is well written, in a simple and accessible style, and is a perfect beach read.
Two friends, Donny and Joey, are about to go into their senior year at High School. More or less average Joes, they are immersed in the emotional turmoil that besets that age group. Author Steve Godofsky does a great job of dealing with the confusion and transience of that period in our lives. Essentially, the book is about the power of relationships, friendships, and family bonds. Empathy is a big key to the story. It takes on a paranormal twist as Donny attains the gift of mind-reading through a chance encounter with a Middle Eastern shaman. Any 17-year old boy would love to be able to read the thoughts of the girls in his life, or the one he hopes will be in his life, and this fantasy plays upon the desire of boys of that age to take control of the complex mess that is the social milieu around them.
The greatest strength of the book is how it faithfully details teenage angst. Donny can compare the words said by people around him to their actual thoughts and feelings, which are often very different indeed. So different, in fact, that at times 'Mind Reader' is almost a black comedy. Donny is warned not to misuse his power, but can't help making the ability to mind-read work to his advantage. He lets one or two people into his secret, and is rumbled by just one person - the very girl he lusts after at school, Carla. Up to that point she has shown no interest in him whatsoever, but as the possible implications of his power dawns on her, she easily seduces him and persuades him to use his power to win at a local casino. Although Donny can tell from Carla's thoughts that she is a bad egg, it doesn't stop him from following her on a path leading towards personal destruction. At the last minute, strengthened by the love of his close family and friends, he pulls out of the dive, and comes to his senses.
Is this realistic? I think so. Perhaps less realistic is how her dumped ex-boyfriend doesn't pay Donny a visit with a baseball bat. There is very little animosity between the teenage boys in the story, which I find surprising. I also found it surprising how much money they all have to spend on their leisure time, although none of them seems to actually have a summer job.
I don't think the cover of this book does the story justice. Although relevant, the cover reminds me of something like The Celestine Prophecy, which gives the impression that this is a New Age novel. But the story is more gritty than that. The narrative is more like a teenage coming-of-age story, with a supernatural event creating a challenge to be overcome. Many Hollywood films aimed at the teen and twenty-something audience use this method effectively (e.g. transmigration of souls), and I think this book falls into that sort of genre.
'Mind Reader' is also a morality tale; although not in the sense of urging readers into, say, a Christian lifestyle, or such like. Indeed, 'Mind Reader' presents a very realistic, although toned-down, picture of the easy sexual proclivities of 17-year olds. The morality is broader than that. It highlights the importance of the direction we take in our lives, rather than the decisions we make day to day, although these are obviously linked. It highlights how the friends we choose in life help determine the type of people we become, and how important it is during our teenage years to make the right choices. It highlights how it is never too late to turn away from a destructive path.
This little gem of a novel was fun to read, and very insightful, particularly for a Dad whose oldest son is about to become a teenager!
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 26th September 2009
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