I just finished reading a book written by a fantastic debut author, Taya Okerlund. Taya was in my critique group last year at WIFYR. I remember getting her chapters for critique and thinking, "Wow!" I read it through twice with no critiques because the writing was so lovely. When I found out she was under contract for the book, I wasn't surprised. It's been a long wait for me to get my hands on this b
"Hurricane Coltrane" is a middle-grade novel set in southern Utah. Here is the back cover story:
"Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He's an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned.
Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy--the kind his friend Merrill knows best.
Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie's mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge.
And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future will be compromised in ways he doesn't yet realize.
There is so much to love about this book. The setting is interesting and different enough to keep our attention but there are enough familiar details in the relationships to make us feel right at home. The small town feel is so well-drawn, it's easy to feel like you're welcome for an extended visit. Even when the group of kids go to L.A., we get a real sense of place and setting.
Okerlund does a great job at feeding us motivation and emotion through the main characters, Merrill and Robbie. It is so easy to love them and sympathize with them. For me, it was especially compelling to read and connect with the music part of the story. So much can be portrayed and expressed through music, joy, enthusiasm, sorrow. It's all there and nicely done.
There's not a lot to critique about this story. I felt like it jumped around just a bit to show the passage of time and it left me a little disjointed at times. From a mother's perspective, I like that she didn't ease up on the vocabulary. That's always nice. I also appreciate that there are strong, female characters in Merrill's mom and grandma. The relationships weren't perfect and I appreciated that it provided an avenue to acknowledge that sometimes family relationships are hard and that they take work and compromise. Even Robbie, though we don't know very much about his mother, we know she supported and loved him and tried to protect him.
Loyalty is a key theme in the story, between both family and friends. The story is set up perfectly for this theme to be explored and expressed at just the right time in the narrative. I really enjoyed this story and feel like I made some new friends. I'm excited to let my middle-graders read this story and talk about it with them. This is a great recommended read or all ages.