Chosen by Denis Lehane for his eponymous imprint, Ivy Pochoda's Visitation Street is a riveting literary mystery set against the rough-hewn backdrop of the New York waterfront in Red Hook.
It's summertime in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a blue-collar dockside neighborhood. June and Val, two fifteen-year-olds, take a raft out onto the bay at night to see what they can see.
And then they disappear. Only Val will survive, washed ashore; semi-conscious in the weeds.
This shocking event will echo through the lives of a diverse cast of Red Hook residents. Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner, hopes that his shop will be the place to share neighborhood news and troll for information about June's disappearance. Cree, just beginning to pull it together after his father's murder, unwittingly makes himself the chief suspect, but an enigmatic and elusive guardian is determined to keep him safe.
Val contends with the shadow of her missing friend and a truth she buries deep inside. Her teacher Jonathan, a Julliard School dropout and barfly, wrestles with dashed dreams and a past riddled with tragic sins.
Summer is everybody else's party. It belongs to the recently arrived hipsters in their beat-up sneakers and paint-splattered jeans spilling out of the bar down the block. It belongs to Puerto Rican families with foil trays of meat, sending charcoal smoke signals into the air, even to the old men in front of the VFW, sitting out, watching the neighborhood pass them by.
Val and June lie on Val's bed on the second floor of her parents' house on Visitation. The girls are waiting for the night to take shape, watching the facing row of neat three-story brick houses.
Although June has the phone numbers of twenty boys in her cell, ten she'd willingly kiss and ten she swears are dying to kiss her, the girls are alone. June's been scrolling through her phonebook looking for someone she's missed, her polished nail clicking against the screen. If she keeps this up, the battery will be dead by midnight, which is what Val's hoping for.
I am in awe of Pochoda's craft, not just because of her skill in placing the reader viscerally at the heart of Red Hook, but because she can do so without sacrificing the story line. There's no noticeable break in the forward action of the plot.
(Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
Full Review (1180 words).
In Visitation Street Ivy Pochoda puts us smack in the middle of a place like few authors can.
"Music from Coffey Park is rolling down Visitation Street, signaling the kickoff of Old Timers Day on the backside of the neighborhood. Overnight, families from the projects have staked out plots of the park, jockeying to get prime real estate for their barbecues ... Men carrying foil trays of macaroni salad and slaw search out their families' tables. Kids chase one another between the grills. Grandmothers parade their visiting grandchildren."
It is no accident that our mouths might now be watering for macaroni salad and grilled burgers and chicken. This the ability to create what is called a sense of place, only happens with careful...
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Daringly poised at the junction of the sacred and the profane, and filled with the sights and sounds of New York - a narrative of the twentieth century written for the twenty-first.
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