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Book Review: Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton (2/5)

20 May

S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is probably my favorite novel of all time. I adore it each time I read it and I love the movie adaptation. I have a ring with a quote from the book. Everything about it is amazing. So when I found out Hinton had published a novel more recently, I added it to my TBR. It took years, but I finally got to it. And I’m quickly trying to forget about it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton

Summary from Goodreads:

An orphan and a bastard, Jamie Sommers grew up knowing he had no hope of heaven. Conceived in adultery and born in sin, Jamie was destined to repeat the sins of his parents–or so the nuns told him. And he proved them right. Taking to sea, Jamie sought out danger and adventure in exotic ports all over the world as a smuggler, gunrunner–and murderer. Tough enough to handle anything, he’s survived foreign prisons, pirates, and a shark attack. But in a quiet seaside town in Delaware, Jamie discovered something that was enough to drive him insane-and change his life forever. For it was in Hawkes Harbor that Jamie came face to face with the ultimate evil…

The book started strong for me. Jamie had a rough childhood and grew up to be a bit of an outlaw but a happy guy until he sees a coworker killed for a cause he doesn’t support. The timeline jumps between his time in a mental ward and spiraling downward in New Orleans. I thought there was some connection between the drugs and alcohol abuse and his space in the ward. Then he moved to Deleware and things seemed to be OK for a while. And here’s where the book lost me. I’m going to spoil it completely so skip this review if you want to read this. There he’s attacked by a vampire and made to be his slave. Yep, no joke. A story that I thought was going to be about the perils of drug abuse and making the wrong friends is about not waking up vampires from their long slumbers. The rest of the book is Jamie trying to escape from the vampire’s grip and their almost friendship by the end. I was hoping for a while that the vampire was some kind of metaphor for Jamie’s state of mind but when I lost that hope, I stopped caring about this book. It was so far from what I loved about Hinton’s other novels, the gritty reality of growing up on the wrong side of town, that I couldn’t like it.

Before the vampire attack, Kell and Jamie seemed like very likable characters and I could picture them easily. I liked easy-going Jamie and too-smark Kell. The first half of the book was great. But when it turned Twilight-y, I was done. Jamie dissolved into a shell and Kell was killed for a quick drink.

I didn’t like any of the characters but the least likable was Louisa, the doctor treating Grenville. She was very cruel to Jamie and I didn’t understand her motivation. She was not his master and even Grenville didn’t treat him as cruelly as Louisa did. She appeared out of nowhere to be a lurking presence in the novel and I wish she’d been taken out, I don’t think she added anything to the book.

At the beginning of the book, Jamie was relatable. He had some rough times, he was a bit impulsive, but he had a good heart. Once he was bitten, I hated him. I think that change made this book kind of hard for me to read. It essentially killed off my favorite character.

S.E. Hinton Image via FixQuotes

Jamie’s stories about sailing with Kell were great. I would have read a book of just that. I liked the adventure and risk he faced. I love the water and I won’t lie, some of that life was really appealing to me. I’d love to be on the water all the time but I’m a little too settled to start now.

The ending of the book was rough for me as well. If Grenville’s curse was lifted, I would have thought he’d age. But I guess every author gets to re-write their vampire lore just a bit. I don’t like that Jamie ended up being a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. I would have thought he’d get out of there completely or never recover from it. I guess his character weakness was too much for me by then. I wanted him back to his former glory and it was never going to happen.

I can’t begin to think of what the theme for this book is. Don’t go sticking your nose somewhere a kid tells you is haunted? Tough luck if you’re attacked by a vampire? It doesn’t matter if your doctor has the best intentions? The book was so disjointed and felt like three different books so I’m not sure what to think of it or even how to critique it. It was just too much.

Writer’s Takeaway: At the beginning, Hinton was using flashbacks to build tension. We saw Jamie growing up and exploring the seas and would return to him in psychiatric care. Unsure what had landed him there, we followed him and heard him share his story with the doctors. Then he’s released and the story fell apart for me there. All the tension seemed unimportant. His adventuring had nothing to do with why he was there, he’d be bitten and had tried to save someone else but was accused of assault. The tension disintegrated and I stopped caring. If using a flashback structure, it’s important that the flashbacks are important.

This book was a huge let down for me, sad to say. Two out of Five Stars

Until next time, write on.

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