"Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?"
When I first picked this one up, I had the impression it was a supernatural tale - something about the title, cover, and the above quote from the jacket cover just gave it that feel. Then, the protagonist began speaking in first-person from his military post in Afghanistan, and it quickly snapped into present-day reality.
The word "reality" doesn't even begin to cut it. The fact that I waded in with no idea of what to expect just made the reading experience all the more intense, I think, so I'm not going to give much of a synopsis here. In a nutshell, Ben is expecting to go out on a mission tomorrow that he knows he may very well not come back from. Before dawn, he is attempting to get on paper his memories of what happened in his tiny Wisconsin town two years ago. Everyone knows the end result, and they may think they know what led up to it, but only he has the whole story - or, at least the lion's share of it.
This is the story of a lie that spirals out of control. You know, one of those situations where the initial lie prompts further hiding of the truth, because if you tell the truth now, people will find out you lied before, yadda yadda. I usually have no patience with such storylines, because they all come to the same inevitable ending: the whole story unravels, the initial lie is discovered, and if the main character had just told the truth to begin with...lesson learned.
Excpet, this time, Ben isn't the one who told the initial lie (and, really, who did? What was the initial lie?) Nevertheless, he gets caught in an untruth that other people believe wholeheartedly, and while his initial actions may have been above reproach - commendable, even - continuing to do the right thing could have disastrous consequences for him.
Intense almost isn't an adequate term. This is definitely a page-turner, a sticks-with-you, a look-up-in-a-daze-when-someone-tries-to-talk-to you kind of book. The kind of book your high school students would love you for assigning, but which half your parents may object to - but, man, the discussions you can have in class before the administration knocks on your door and tells you to pass out Moby Dick!
Highly recommended for any high school library (mature topics and very graphic violence). Thank-you Carolrhoda (division of Lerner) for the review copy, and for the lost sleep!