Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Review: Days of Little Texas

Days of Little Texas by R.A. Nelson. (Grades 8+)
Full disclosure: review copy provided by Random House.

Summary from publisher:

Welcome, all ye faithful—and otherwise—to a ghost story, a romance, and a reckoning unlike anything you’ve read before. Acclaimed YA author R. A. Nelson delivers a tantalizing tale set in the environs of the evangelical revival circuit and centered around Ronald Earl, who at ten became the electrifying “boy wonder” preacher known as Little Texas. Now sixteen, though the faithful still come and roar with praise and devotion, Ronald Earl is beginning to have doubts that he is worthy of and can continue his calling. Doubts that only intensify when his faith and life are tested by a mysterious girl who he was supposed to have healed, but who is now showing up at the fringe of every stop on the circuit. Is she merely devoted, or is she haunting him?

I have a confession. I didn't really know what this book was about before I picked it up. Honestly, I heard "sixteen-year-old evangelical minister" and knew I had to read it, so I was not at all prepared for the delicious creepiness of the tale. I am not a huge fan of ghost stories. Not because I mind scary things, but because I have trouble suspending my disbelief enough to really get into them. Days of Little Texas had me at the beginning, though, with an interesting mix of characters and a slow, atmospheric building of suspense.

I'm a sucker for beautifully descriptive and poetic lines. And there's no shortage here. Whether describing Ronald Earl's mother as having "skin the color of cracker crumbs and hair that blows in the breeze like feathers" (pg 14) or a woman passing out as "soft as tallow dripping down a candle" (pg 32), there's no question that there's great imagery going on here.

Where it lost me a little bit is in character development. I felt removed from Ronald Earl, like I was looking at him from the outside when I would have rather been inside his head, understanding his motivations. And his bevvy of interesting companions in the Church of the Hand were intriguing at first, but I never felt like I got to know any of them either.

And maybe it was because I didn't go into the book expecting a ghost story, but the ending just wasn't my thing. That said, this'll please fans of ghost stories. I'd try it on teens who liked Lauren Myracle's Bliss. Sarah Miller recommends it to older fans of Lesley M.M. Blume's Tennyson (and I'd have to agree). Check out more reviews at The Compulsive Reader and Readingjunky's Reading Roost.