Michael Pearson, a professor of creative nonfiction, successfully transfers his talents to fiction writing in his debut novel, Shohola Falls, a thought-provoking blend of historical fiction and coming-of-age saga.
When his mother dies of emphysema and his father disappears, teenager Tommy Banks is left to fend for himself in the Bronx. He goes to school, works at a deli and steals his food and books. "My days were stitched together by the stories I read," he says, but when he is caught stealing an armload of books by Mark Twain, his favorite author, he is sent to a boys' home in upstate New York, as far from the Bronx as he's ever been. He falls in love with a girl from the nearby town of Shohola Falls, but physical abuse at the home forces him to flee.
Tommy is taken in by the caretaker of a nearby cabin once owned by Tommy's great-grandfather. There the teenager finds a journal written by his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Blankenship, a childhood friend of Samuel Clemens, and the model for the character of Huckle- berry Finn. The journal ends with a hint that more is hidden in a San Francisco bungalow, so Tommy heads west on an trip that recalls Huck's own adventure.
Of the numerous writings on the life and career of Mark Twain, Pearson's enjoyable debut is one with a refreshingly unique viewpoint. Bringing to life both his young hero and the historical figures in the book with equal skill, Pearson has created a memorable modern-day story with evocative echoes of the past. Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.