Deadwood is an early offering by new small publisher Pugalicious Press. Written by Kell Andrews, Deadwood is the story of a cursed tree that has drained the luck from the small town of Lower Brynwood. 12-year-old Martin Cruz, new to Lower Brynwood, finds himself in reluctant partnership with schoolmate Hannah Vaughan. The two try to remove the curse, saving the tree and the town.
The characterization in Deadwood is quite strong (at least for the protagonists). Martin and Hannah are both three-dimensional, and their conflicted relationship rings true. Hannah's relationship with her long-time best friend Waverly gives Andrews a chance to explore the way that friendships grow and change during adolescence. The adult characters are less nuanced. Martin's mean-spirited Aunt Michelle, who he is living with while his soldier mother is deployed, is a bit over the top, as is a former football hero who becomes a nemesis for the kids (and the tree). But this works ok - the plot itself is also over-the-top, and these adult characters fit right in with that.
Deadwood feels more like magical realism than fantasy. There are unquestionably fantastical elements (the tree communicates with the children, even sending them text messages). And certain events are not strictly realistic (the political structure of the town, the rapid progression of the curse). But the relationships between Martin and Hannah (and Hannah and Waverly) and the kids' day-to-day challenges with school and family life, still make Deadwood read more like realistic fiction than fantasy. Like this:
"When she became friends with Waverly in second grade, Hannah realized she had a lot to learn about being a girl. It seemed like Waverly had been born knowing how to layer T-shirts, pair shoes with jeans, apply lip gloss, and toss her head so that her hair caught the light." (Page 60)
"... but Waverly was more tentative, and that made Hannah nervous. The two of them had never kept secrets from each other before, but Hannah had to admit that she had started it. She had introduced the space between them, allowing Libby to squeeze her way into the gap. Libby had might sharp elbows." (Page 165)
Deadwood is a fairly quick read (much less dense than many of the fantasy tomes crowding the market today). There's a nice mix of heart and humor, and plenty of attention paid to interpersonal dynamics. I thought that the culmination of the plot wrapped up a bit quickly (and I personally saw the bad guy coming from a long way off). But I still found it an enjoyable read. Give this one to middle grade readers who enjoy magical realism, or to anyone for whom the idea of talking with an ancient, enormous tree is irresistible.
Publisher: Pugalicious Press (@PugaliciousPres)
Publication Date: November 15, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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