Verdict: David Bernstein’s deeply rooted love for the coast of South Carolina, strong moral principles, and his ability to write from a middle grade perspective add layers of complexity to this coming of age novel about a young boy’s first foray into romance, making it a knockout debut novel for readers of all ages.
For as long as ten-year-old Peter Prince can remember, his family has always vacationed at Pawleys Island. Peter’s memories of Pawleys are steeped in family traditions and fun in the sun with his younger brother, Sammy. There’s no reason for this vacation to be different—at least not until he meets the new girl next door, Ali. When Ali’s brother is attacked, they embark on a mission that no adult will undertake: find the attackers and exact revenge!
As a veteran of Pawleys Island, author David Bernstein has poured his love of the coast into his writing. He imbues the Prince family with his memories and traditions, lending an authentic passion to Peter’s thoughts and feelings. For Peter (and Bernstein) no beach is better than Pawleys, where “the sand is soft, the water is warm, and the waves are the perfect size”. Pawleys is a place that Peter holds sacred—and that connection to the setting is integral THE KING OF PAWLEYS.
This year at Pawleys, Peter is proud to have new privileges—until Ali starts getting them into trouble. As they pursue the ruffians that beat up Ali’s brother, Ali convinces him to do things he would never do on his own and Peter finds himself suffering through some important moral lessons. Bernstein hones in on the consequences of Peter’s actions, highlighting his theme that “there’s a big difference between knowing what’s right and doing what’s right”.
But even as Ali pushes Peter out of his comfort zone, she also gives him confidence. She’s cheerful, intelligent, observant—and ready to “lower the hammer” on the boys that beat up her brother. With every brain-scrambling compliment that Ali says to Peter, Bernstein draws the reader into the innocence and embarrassment of a first romance. Through Peter the reader experiences the heart pounding sensation of holding a girl’s hand for the first time, the warmth of a quick first kiss, and the bittersweet sorrow that comes at the end of every summer romance.
THE KING OF PAWLEYS puts to words the formative nature of childhood. Bernstein writes with the foresight of an adult, but the perspective of a man who was once a boy determined to demonstrate his “mastery of all things beachy”. Young or old, there’s something for readers of all ages to learn—and to enjoy—in David Bernstein’s debut novel.
~Stephani Hren for IndieReader