BLACK FOREST starts with a bang. A frantic car ride, blood and fear. And then it rewinds and takes readers back to the beginning. The story follows a wild couple of months in fifteen year-old Jack’s life, as he navigates young adulthood with his best friend Cash, while searching for clues to his father’s disappearance. It is a month in which the author deftly unwinds the tension bit by bit until readers are as breathless as the characters with the suspense and thrill of it all. Not to mention urban legends of Nazi gold.
The immediate sense of realness to the town of Black Forest and the people in it is striking. There are countless places just like it across America where the people are too poor, or too high, or just too tired to change or to leave. The folks here are messed up, brave, contradictory, and achingly human. Take, for example, the normally mellow convenience store clerk/stoner who is about to have a mental breakdown if he has to count one more dang Slushie cup! Or the abandoned mother who can’t seem to live in the present anymore, even to be with her son. The teenage boys that insist three PB&Js on white bread, potato chips, and a glass of whole milk is the best meal in the world. And the kid who used to be “good” and normal but won’t – or can’t – stop looking for the father that everyone says walked out on him. Prepare for déjà vu because these people are as real as anyone, and their interweaving stories will draw readers in with quiet effortlessness.
Author J Scott Boyd’s near perfect pacing in BLACK FOREST lends to the atmosphere and immersive realism in what feels like a real place, real people’s lives, and the insane stories they sometimes have to tell. Boyd avoids jarring transitions by skillfully varying his writing style for action, dialogue, and exposition. When the characters are involved in a fight or chase and the adrenaline is pumping, so too is the narration quick. Succinct. Staccato. He writes the way people actually think in those sorts of situations. And that makes it all the easier to fall into the narrative and to maybe even forget that you’re reading words on a page, instead of running helter skelter right alongside Jack and Cash. Perhaps the best part of the book is the protagonist’s intelligent, often sarcastic narration. Jack is a smart kid who doesn’t let other people tell him how to think, and the author never breaks character. Whether Jack is dryly breaking down why racism just doesn’t make sense, exclaiming “Nazi shit” for the eighteenth time, or degenerating to single word sentences at the sight of a girl in a bikini, it all makes him feel even more real. Because no matter how smart he is, what teenager doesn’t elicit a few eye rolls now and then?
BLACK FOREST by J Scott Boyd is a modern suspense thriller for mature young readers that will keep them hooked until the very last page. Parents should probably take a peek before letting readers under the age of 13 or so read the book as it does feature drug use, violence and some sexual content, although none of it particularly glorified or explicit.
~Lauren Napoli for IndieReader