Tucker Graysten should be dead. He should have died in the fiery accident that took the lives of his three best friends. Or maybe, if he had been driving, the accident wouldn’t have happened at all. Tucker was supposed to be the designated driver, but he decided for once to throw caution to the winds and loosen up with a few beers. Instead, he ended up throwing up on the side of the road, telling his friends to go on ahead of him to a party they would never arrive at.
"Conveying the feelings of a teenage boy has proved again and again nearly impossible without heavy reliance on certain tropes, but Grove manages to do so with aplomb."
At first, Tucker is in shock. How could this have happened? More importantly, how could this have happened to them and not to him? Tucker was always the cautious one: the "quiet Indian" who kept his friends --- a skateboarding science fiend, a displaced cowboy and a drummer with a heart of gold --- from getting into too much trouble. And they weren’t just friends; they were a tight crew defined as much by their own personas as by the contrasts between them. Without them, Tucker is lost.
As Tucker moves through the days following the accident and funerals, he feels incapable of letting himself grieve. He can’t admit his loss, not to his family, schoolmates or even to the family members of his friends. The only thing that he can rely on to keep him moving forward is the pain in his legs, which were ripped apart as he ran to the scene of the accident and have since become infected. Holding onto this pain is the only thing that stops him from letting go.
But there are a few other people who don’t want him to let go --- his history teacher and his step mother’s father, a war vet named Bud who is getting sick of the restraints of aging. Both recognize in Tucker the look of defeat that follows a horrific loss. But both also think that it is not yet time for him to give in.
With some seriously supernatural turns, Bud takes Tucker out to meet his maker --- or at least to meet the Ferryman who takes the living to the land of the dead. The only question is whether Tucker is truly ready to make that decision.
Author Vicki Grove sensitively portrays the stunned Tucker, an introvert who had a hard time taking it easy or cutting himself slack even before his best friends plunged over the cliff. His interactions with Bud are incredibly vivid --- both characters feel jagged and real; men trying to cover themselves when everything is being exposed. They may be at opposite ends of their lives, but the two have a lot in common, and their connection is deep, though they never explicitly acknowledge it to one another.
Grove carefully constructs Tucker’s reaction --- immediately the reader can tell that he’s just not a saccharine guy, and the ways he reaches out feel sincere. Conveying the feelings of a teenage boy has proved again and again nearly impossible without heavy reliance on certain tropes, but Grove manages to do so with aplomb. While the supernatural elements do seem a bit unnecessary (surely the way that grief evolves is comprehensible even without a three headed dog or a mind-reading shape shifter), they don’t overwhelm the story. And since it would still be an adventure without the magic, one can choose to read these portions as a metaphor for the ways people find to keep going after an overwhelming loss.
Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on September 4, 2013