Middle Child Press: Amaya Speaks: Hollowstone--A Review

10.09.2011

Amaya Speaks: Hollowstone--A Review

Hollowstone, a story about a young man’s experiences at a prestigious Tennessee prep school, is Dennis Upkins’ debut novel.  Before I deliver my thoughts on this book, I need to provide a bit of context.

I love books.  Love them, love them, and love them.  Stories have weight and texture and scent and flavor, and nothing illustrates that better than a novel.  I’ll always buy books.  But in these times, books have gone digital and eBooks are extremely popular.  As co-owner of a small “tree-friendly” publishing house, eBooks are all Middle Child Press does.  So to embrace this trend, I bought a Kindle.  Part of my soul died, as I felt like I was betraying the decades-long love affair I have with books.

Drawback of the Kindle:  You can’t easily flip back and forth through earlier pages to clarify what you’ve read.  This annoyed the hell out of me.


Hollowstone is the very first novel I downloaded to my Kindle.  I read it over the course of two nights.  I was looking forward to reading a book Mr. Upkins gave birth to during last year’s NaNoWriMo.  I went into it, thinking I was going to read a simple tale about a young black man named Noah and his sudden thrust into the elitist world of privileged white kids.  He has the benefit of being roommates with the most popular boy on campus, a rebel named Cal.  Cal parties hard and lives life to the fullest.  He doesn’t fit the mold of the typical Hollowstone student, and Noah is able to adapt because of Cal’s influence.  Cal is also thusly affected by Noah’s presence.

The first half of the book depicts the common harsh treachery of high school students.  There’s nothing exceptional or special about it.  Mr. Upkins drops what I thought were random, disconnected blurbs disguised as Noah’s dreams.  But the story was compelling.  I was concerned about the pacing, as it felt like so much was happening during Noah’s first semester at Hollowstone that could have been stretched out over a year.

I got my first metaphorical punch in the face halfway through the book.  Mr. Upkins deviated wildly to the left and it was at this point that I wondered what I was really reading about.  It felt disjointed, disconnected, and surreal.  But I kept reading because Mr. Upkins has a great flair for dialogue, and in my experience, dialogue can make or break a book.  The book was un-put-downable, and if that isn’t a word, it is today.

I don’t want to give anything away, but Mr. Upkins demonstrated his prowess as a storyteller as the book continued.  Most stories are clichéd and I thought I was reading a book that was going to follow a standard pattern.  I was pleasantly surprised.  When the other two stunning developments came, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched.  Everything that felt disjointed at the beginning came together like a well-made quilt at the end.  What I thought were random blurbs were a prelude to something deeper than the surface story; something much bigger than Hollowstone itself.

If I have a gripe with this story, it’s the pacing.  So much was happening so fast that I couldn’t keep up with exactly where Noah was in terms of his education.  He was doing so much; he’s a gifted musician and the prize student of the irascible Professor Nolan, one of the best minor characters in the book (the scene with the paintball gun had me in tears).  He gets a job in a bookstore, and it seems as if he spends (along with other students) more time out of class than in it.  In spite of this issue, Mr. Upkins takes these loose threads and produces an exceptional unconventional story.  I had to step away for a while and think about the book before I wrote this review.  If I hadn’t known that this was his first effort, and that it was written during NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I’ve read thousands of books by newbies and vets alike, and Mr. Upkins is a better storyteller than a good third of the authors I’ve read, both neophytes and veterans.  And considering where he started, he has nowhere to go but up and get better.

My $.02?  Run, don’t walk to your Kindle (or any other eReader you may have) and download this book.  It’s a great weekend read; even better if it’s a rainy weekend.

Bravo, Denny!  Bravo!