by Johanna Parkhurst
Fact: When Zebulon Pike attempted to climb what is now known as Pikes Peak, he got stuck in waist-deep snow and had to turn back.
That’s the last thing Dusty Porter learns in his Colorado history class before appendicitis ruins his life. It isn’t long before social services figures out that Dusty’s parents are more myth than reality, and he and his siblings are shipped off to live in Vermont with an uncle and aunt they’ve never met.
Dusty’s new life is a struggle. His brother and sister don’t seem to need him anymore, and he can’t stand his aunt and uncle. At school, one hockey player develops a personal vendetta against him, while Emmitt, another hockey player, is making it hard for Dusty to keep pretending he’s straight. Problem is, he’s pretty sure Emmitt’s not gay. Then, just when Dusty thinks things can’t get any worse, his mother reappears, looking for a second chance to be a part of his life.
Somehow Zebulon Pike still got the mountain named after him, so Dusty’s determined to persevere—but at what point in life do you keep climbing, and when do you give up and turn back?
Read an excerpt:
The man next to me starts shifting in his seat uncomfortably, so I move Julia around in my lap to give him a little more room. They sure don’t give you a heck of a lot of space in economy class.
“Thanks,” he nods, adjusting his tie. He’s a young black guy, tall, and he looks all business in a gray suit and shiny shoes. His tie has some diamond-looking pattern on it. “Those your brother and sister?” he asks, gesturing toward Matt and Jules.
We’ve reached cruising altitude, and Matt is totally engrossed in his video game. At least he’s plugged headphones into it so the beeping won’t bug the other passengers. Jules is still completely unconscious. “Yeah. They’re usually a lot more… aware of what’s going on, though.”
He chuckles at that. “Bet it’ll make your flight a lot easier. Are you traveling alone?”
I stare at the seat in front of me. “Yeah, we are. We’re going to see our aunt and uncle.”
“They live in New York?”
I’d forgotten that’s where our stopover is. “Nah, upstate Vermont. Are you from New York?” I glance over at him.
“Brooklyn all the way.” He smiles. I thought his accent sounded funny. “I was just at a conference in Colorado Springs. It’s got some impressive views. Is that where you live?”
The guy has no idea what a loaded question he’s just asked. Suddenly I’m sorry I ever started a conversation with him. “Yeah,” I mumble. “At least, we used to. Maybe not anymore.”
He must realize that isn’t the best question to ask, because he doesn’t say anything for a few minutes after that. I’m more than happy to end the conversation on that note and go back to staring stupidly at the seat in front of me, but at some point he clears his throat and starts speaking again.
“You know,” he says quietly, “I actually grew up with my aunt and uncle.”
This is already starting to sound suspiciously like one of those “I got through it and you’ll get through it too” pep talks adults like to give. I definitely am not in the mood for one of those, and I don’t even know this guy. “So?” I say nastily.
I loved this book. Dusty's plight pulled at my heartstrings from the very beginning. I grew up very fortunate, with two parents who doted on me and my little sister. I have known people in similar situations and cannot fathom being in it. I just wanted to step in and do something to help them.
When the kids moved to Vermont, I just wanted to shake the aunt and uncle, as well as Dusty, as they tried to navigate their new roles and relationships. Adults don't always understand how tight the bond becomes between the elder sibling and the younger ones for whom he has cared, essentially their entire lives. They mean well and think that they are helping Dusty as they take over his duties, but really need to ease into that role. Dusty also needs to let go a bit. Easier said than done, I know. It's understandable why he doesn't trust adults. The teacher in me just wants to fix it all, though.
Dusty is lucky and also manages to find some new friends. He is accepted into their circle and also manages to find some activities in which he can get involved. As this aspect of his life settles, he is thrown another curve ball as he has to come to terms with the fact that he is gay. He pines after his friend, not knowing if the feeling is mutual. Anyone who has ever had a crush on a friend can relate to this part.
I also enjoyed how Dusty compares his situation to Zeb Pike. He definitely finds himself waist-deep and can't figure out how to move forward. He has to make some choices and find a different path than he originally thought he would take, so that he can eventually do something amazing despite all odds.
This coming of age story felt very real to me. Even when not in such dire circumstances, teens battle many of these feelings and situations on a regular basis. Dusty's voice was true and the characters were relateable. The story flowed smoothly and quickly. Fans of YA will like this one.
Also available from Dreamspinner Press
**Read my interview with Johanna here.**
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Johanna Parkhurst grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Vermont before relocating to the rocky mountains of Colorado. She spends her days helping teenagers learn to read and write and her evenings writing things she hopes they’ll like to read. She strives to share stories of young adults who are as determined, passionate, and complex as the ones she shares classrooms with.
Johanna holds degrees from Albertus Magnus College and Teachers College, Columbia University. She loves traveling, hiking, skiing, watching football, and spending time with her incredibly supportive husband. You can contact her athttps://www.facebook.com/johannaparkhurstwriteson or find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/johannawriteson.