Note : I received this ARC from the publishers via the Reading Room (https://www.thereadingroom.com/) giveaway program. Thank you Penguin Random House (Crown Publishing)!
Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.
Written in stark and unforgettable prose and featuring an array of surprising and memorable characters rendered with empathy and wit, Dodgers heralds the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.
The story starts off on a pretty intriguing note – We are introduced to East, who is only fifteen and running a crew comprising other teenagers, all tasked with keeping watch outside a crack house and alerting its members in the event of an approaching police raid. East is employed by his uncle Fin, who owns many such houses, and when the house that East is supposed to watch, is discovered and raided, Fin sends East on another mission. East agrees, in an effort to redeem himself. He soon discovers that he is in for a very long roadtrip, and a harrowing one, from LA to Wisconsin, with his half-brother Ty, UCLA dropout Michael and a tech geek Walter.
The book is pretty descriptive and detailed in a lot of ways; in terms of how street gangs are run, the hierarchy and people. It was so unsettling to see boys who should be in school, being so comfortable and exposed to such a world. Ty sort of freaked me out, he seemed to be someone totally closed, cold and ruthless .. I had to keep reminding myself that he is just a thirteen year old kid! Beverly was pretty effective in communicating the ugly, cruel existence and reality of some lives, and how it is practically impossible to turn around or change their financial situation, especially with absent, irresponsible or weak parents. And then on the other side, you have the slightly older boys, Michael and Walter, who seem to be throwing away all the good things they have; choosing to make money this way than live honest crime-free lives.
There was one particular chapter, early on in the book, when my heart went out to East. We get a glimpse into the house he has to go back to, where he has spent his early years, with his mom and Ty. It is dirty, unkempt, the kitchen is empty, with ants scrambling and cold half-cooked eggs being the only thing available to eat. His mom seems to have shut herself off to what exactly her boys do out there in the real world, meekly takes the money handed by East, and tells him as goes out again “I know you ain’t in no trouble. My boys ain’t”. I also liked all the reflective bits where East is thinking back and wondering just what happened between him and Ty and whether there was a particular phase they drifted apart, or did any sort of kinship ever exist at all.
Despite some moments like these which stood out for its blunt and raw exposition, it just wasn’t enough. The descriptive and detailed narrative of East’s journey, both literal and metaphorical; ended up being this book’s weakness more than its strength. I found the pace too slow with a lot of repetitive and drawn out moments. I think I would have liked to see more of Ty, and more conversation between Ty and East. Michael irritated me as much as the boys, Walter was okay. Now that I look back, I can appreciate the book’s originality in terms of prose and narrative, but as a reading experience, by the time I finished the book, I was as exhausted as East was by the end of his LA-to-Wisconsin roadtrip.