Monday, April 20, 2015

Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky

In the small town of Utopia people live very long lives and possess some very interesting quirks. One boy and his family are all very lucky, one of the school teachers always knows what is going to happen with the weather, there is an amazing batch of strawberry jam that shows up a few times of year courtesy a particularly gifted gardener and aspiring teen screenwriter Jack Bell sees dead people.

The crazy thing about Jack is that his "gift" isn't even the most amazing one in his family.

This is just how it is in Utopia. Some people believe in all the mystery, others do their best to ignore or even debunk it. Whatever. It's all live and let live mostly but then a girl dies at the local private college, (which includes coursework in mind reading, fortune-telling and teleportation), and starts visiting Jack. The problem with Alice is that she doesn't know how she died and the dead always know how they died. She wants Jack to sort it out and soon enough he discovers that her death is not the worst thing to happen in Utopia and rather is just the start of things getting a lot worse, especially for the guy stuck in the middle of it all.
Utopia, Iowa is primarily a mystery and on that score author Brian Yanksy does a very nice job. Jack makes for a solid teen detective who after years of mischief (ducking into movies without paying) already has a little bit of an antagonistic relationship with the law. (This makes things tougher when he sneaks under the police tape surrounding the dead girl's dorm room looking for clues and gets caught. Of course.)

The new police detective is a local boy who has returned from the big city and hates Utopia's weirdness so is unwilling to believe any "dead girl talked to me" story Jack shares. This is solid crime cop/teen detective tension (albeit with a paranormal twist) and works well. Jack also has a host of personal concerns: his parents are having some problems, his grandmother (who is a witch) is about to do something very dangerous and his little sister is either endearingly annoying or on the path to paranormal greatness/crazy town. There is also (of course) classic best friend/girl friend issues that need to be resolved.

Basically, the mystery could not have shown up at a worse time.

There are some really good characters in Utopia, Iowa. Jack is great, his family quirky but easy to relate to and his best friend is not a manic pixie dream girl for which I am eternally grateful. (For Utopia she is actually rather normal.)

The revelation of the big bad is a little problematic however. Yansky interjects occasional fairy talesque passages into the text hinting at some great act of vengeance that has been percolating in Utopia's background from eons and while it works out fine in the end (actually a very cool ending), it's still a little bit of an mash-up between the classic murder scenario that seems to involve the college and the more "once upon a time" elements. Sometimes things don't fit together as seamlessly as they should and amidst such great characters and setting, that can be frustrating. BUT.....I still enjoyed Utopia, Iowa a great deal. It's something different, it's engaging, it's thoughtful and it's not the slightest bit sparkly. This is a solid diversionary read, especially for those who enjoy it when romance is not the biggest plot point a YA paranormal has to offer.

1 comment :

tanita✿davis said...

I tend to find myself very well amused by Yansky books, and the title of this one even made me smile - looks interesting!