Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: Visitation Street by Ivy Pachoda

Visitation Street

Author: Ivy Pochoda
Publisher: HarperCollins Publisher
Date of Publication: July 9, 2013
Pages: 320 (NOOK Edition)

     Visitation Street is a "lost girl" novel.  The set up is interesting.  One summer night two bored 15 year old girls searching for adventure decide to take a small raft onto the river near their Brooklyn home.  One is found on the shore the next morning near death, amnesic for events surrounding the raft ride.  The other remains missing, her fate unknown until the very end of the book.  The book studies the effects of this disappearance on a complex urban neighborhood.  There are many other main characters.  They include the girls' music teacher who also is an alcoholic, a troubled African-American teen who encountered the girls on their way to the water, a Muslim convenience store owner and the extended families of the girls and these other characters.

     This is a first novel for Ms. Pochoda and there are certainly flashes of writing brilliance in Visitation Street.  My problem with the book is that it never decides what it is.  It is not a police procedural, since the formal investigation is almost never mentioned.  It tries to be a complex character study and succeeds on certain levels, but the author has so many characters involved that none ever get the full attention they deserve.  It also has hints of a sociological study of an urban neighborhood, with conflicts between the dwellers in the projects, the original inhabitants and new intruders trying to revitalize the waterfront.  All of these conflicts are alluded to but never completely developed.  Several of the characters have the ability to "communicate with the dead" and there are scenes of  the missing girl channeling through yet another girl as well as making appearances in a mirror to the other raft rider. 

     Overall, this was a good book, kept me turning the pages and had spots of sparkling description.  I would have been happier with a less complex story that focused more on just a couple of the main characters. 

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