Sixteen-year-old Vic Bennuci suffers from Moebius syndrome and cannot blink or smile. His father died a year ago and his mother seems to have moved on with her life, finding new love and leaving Vic to feel that he is grieving his father alone. Living in Hackensack, New Jersey, Vic feels like an outcast and isn’t sure how to deal with his loss. Frustrated, he takes his father’s urn and runs away, meeting a group of misfits who become his best friends. The gang of misfits that become Vic’s surrogate family is made up of Baz and his brother, Nzuzi, who are Congolese refugees living in the United States foster care system due to the deaths of their family; Coco, who is 11 years old, foul-mouthed and full of spunk; and Mad, who loves The Outsiders and spends time with the gang to escape the violence of an abusive home.
The novel is told from two narrators, Vic and Mad. Vic quickly falls for Mad and at the start of the novel they are separately being interviewed by police about Baz, who has been accused of murder. The novel moves through the stories of Vic and Mad and where they have been over the past week, as they work to ensure Baz’s innocence.
I’m not sure where to situate this novel. There is the mystery about why Baz is accused of murder and how the stories of Mad and Vic help get to the truth of what happened. There is also a smaller mystery of the quest for Vic to find the locations his father left as clues for where he wanted his ashes sprinkled. Yet, the larger story is about finding friendship and family and love.
The youth in this novel have all lived through some very horrific experiences, yet they have found each other and created a bond that fits the tragedy and experiences of their young lives. Well-written and -structured, even though this novel is less of a mystery and more of a narrative of family and friendship, it is still a must-read.
Note: This review was first published in PCA/ACA Mystery & Detective Reading List (Winter 2017)