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Jack is left to his own devices in a high school that offers no course he hasn’t already taken and with only Jim, the kid down the road, as a friend. He and Jim explore the woods and find the abandoned logging camp where an explosion killed several men. What they see reveals a mystery that only Jack wants to solve. Jim says they’ve seen too much. One of Jack’s teachers and the school librarian offer hints, but nothing more. There are things this town doesn’t want to talk about.
The Taylor family moved again at the end of the school year. Some fifty years later, Jack looks back at the year living amongst the tall cedars and the tragedies that continue when man goes a little too far.
On Parson’s Creek is a well-paced novel that combines coming-of-age with mystery spiced by a touch of mysticism. The author creates realistic characters and a believable high school ambiance without wallowing in adolescent angst. The settings will appeal to the nature lover, and the story will engage older readers as well as young adults.
Sutton does an excellent job of portraying the brooding atmosphere of the dark woods in which the protagonist finds himself, recently moved in with his family and coping with the difficulties of a new school; making new friends at the same time as exploring this uncanny backwoods location. In parts the storytelling oozes atmosphere, particularly in the scenes with the old railroad locomotive.
What starts off as a classic 'young people discover strange things and try to sort it out without involving adults' tale takes some interesting twists as the discoveries get mixed up with Indian legend and the possibility that the woods are home to something like a tribe of Bigfoot.
Although the main character is a teenager, I had no problem getting absorbed by the book. My only real complaint was that Sutton doesn't give us enough. It's quite a short book, and I think he could have expanded the story to give it more drama and a more striking destination. In fact, in a way, the problem is that the storytelling is too realistic. This feels like what a real encounter with Bigfoot might be like, but I wanted more drama, more obstacles to overcome and more twists and turns in the plot.
Since they always say 'Leave them wanting more,' this surely is a relatively small omission on the part of the author. That apart it's a book I really enjoyed.
The mystery elements are strong in in this book. Jack discovers a handful of clues about what might be going in in the woods early on, but Mr. Sutton doles the rest of them out sparingly. This technique worked well for the setting, especially once the community’s tendency to isolate itself from the outside world is explained. I don’t know if the author has any intention of writing a sequel, but I’d be interested in reading it if he decides to do so. There is still a lot of unexplored territory in this universe.
It would have been helpful to know more about the personalities and quirks of the characters. Their appearances and occupations are described in detail, but I wasn’t able to figure out much else about any of them. I would have liked to know who was gregarious, shy, talkative, or stubborn. The pacing, plot, and themes were all well done. It was only the lack of character development that held this book back from a higher rating.
Mr. Sutton has a smooth writing style that lured me into the plot immediately. The narrator shares his tale a long time after it took place, so some scenes felt a little more polished than I would have expected from a character who had experienced them recently. This technique worked well for this particular series of events, though, due to how much time the author spent working his way up to the most interesting parts of Jack’s discovery.
I’d recommend On Parson’s Creek to adult readers and older teens alike. This is the kind of novel that can easily cross the threshold between these audiences.
originally posted at long and short reviews.