by Tricia Dower
published by Leapfrog
Tricia Dower's Stony River is labeled as a coming-of-age who-done-it. While there is a mystery, a little bit of magical realism, Stony River is really all about coming of age in what is often thought of as a safer time.
Linda Wise and Tereza Dobra are more friends through circumstance than because they have anything in common. Linda has always been made fun of by the rest of her classmates for her weight, and Tereza's family has moved around so much that she is considered a gypsy. As outcasts, the girls fall in with each other, which is how they came to be playing around the Haggerty house when the police escort out a girl a little older than them and a young boy. No one in Stony River, New Jersey knew anyone but crazy James Haggerty lived there, so this shocks the town. So does the implication of who the boy's father is. While Miranda Haggerty is learning about the outside world through the cloistered world of a convent orphanage, Tereza is fantasizing about the other girl's life as hers becomes more and more troublesome. Eventually, Tereza runs away, leaving Linda even more alone than before. Tereza first camps out in the abandoned Haggerty house, but decides to leave upon finding a stash of money. Determined to be an actress, Tereza starts working her way towards New York, but ends up finding herself living with Buddy Jukes, the cousin of a friend, and his grandmother. Buddy has demons of his own that Tereza does not understand, but is willing to look past. Meanwhile, Miranda is learning to reconcile the Celtic religion she was raised on with Catholicism, and learning that she has a special gift that ends up bringing her closer to the wife of the policeman who found her. Linda is just trying to fit in and make new friends, but finds herself lost and making not the best decisions. Little do the three girls know that their lives are about to collide in a big way.
Dower does an amazing job capturing the feel of small town life in the mid-to-late 1950s (or so I imagine, not having ever experienced that myself). All of the characters are expertly drawn. It is a compelling read, but not for the mystery, which takes so much of a backseat, it does not feel like one at all. What drives the intricate plot is the lessons the three girls learn about the world and themselves as their lives change drastically over the course of five years.
Stony River is an excellent coming-of-age story that has a the feel of a classic. Tricia Dower is very talented. The only thing that hinders Stony River is its classification as a who-done-it; it is a much tighter read if one is not constantly looking for a mystery.