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Black Warrior ReviewWhile the story centers on one son's quest to unearth the skeletons of his father's past, the reader becomes equally interested in the class divisions between neighbors. While Josh's family inhabits a rickety house, his best friend and neighbor, Luke Richmond, lives with his father in a five-story mansion-an exact twin to the five-story house left rotting in the woods. As we uncover the shared past of the twin houses, we begin to understand the secret to Josh's father's cruelty.
Though sparse and economical, Cummings' exposition propels the reader forward, though on occasion, the dialogue diminishes into the trivialities of "teen-talk," rather than a serious portrayal. There is a fine line between succeeding in the imitative qualities of a young adult voice and simply "writing down" to the reader. While Cummings falls into some trappings, overall, he tends to avoid oversimplifying the story.
The book builds for the final scene, in which Josh's father, much like John Brown, attempts to act on his convictions rather than side with man's law. If the story begs anything of its reader, it is to reassess the definition of a hero. Cummings seems to suggest that while the term holds new meaning from the days of John Brown, humankind's shortcomings remain the same. And the book's triumph, perhaps, is in its exploration of these shortcomings; in its ability to turn a despicable character, Josh's father, into a man we come to admire, or at the very least, understand.
Cummings does little to reinvent the wheel, though by staying within the bounds of the genre's conventions, he employs a trusted formula in a new style. The use of history as a narrative tool adds a scopethat is rarely attempted in the realm of young adult literature. By dusting the cobwebs from America's past, he gives his characters a future.