Title: "Northern Lights"
Author: Raymond Strom
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Raymond Strom is no stranger of rural America having lived in small towns in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, thus he writes of what he knows. He has seen the dying little towns with boarded up storefronts, little opportunity for employment, and nothing for young people to do.
The 1990s story is told by Shane Stephenson set in Holm, Minn., searching for the mother he hasn't seen since grade school. He has just graduated from high school, went home to his uncle's place only to find a note and a bit of money telling him to load up his backpack and get out. Stephenson's father had died four months ago. That's when he decided to look for his mother. All he has to go on is a postcard from several years back, with the address of a hotel in Holm, Minn.
Holm's residents take an initial dislike to the long-haired blond Stephenson, especially sadistic high school senior Sven Swenson. Stephenson makes his way to the place where his mother lived, a former hotel, and now a boarding house. The kindly building superintendent lets him rent his mother's former dingy room. While the search for his mother is futile, Stephenson gets a part time job at the local cafe and does make some new friends among other miss-fit teenagers in Holm. It is uncanny how hurting youth and misfits gravitate to each other. They introduce him to the new world of sex, and drugs; Russell a homosexual, beautiful straight Jenny, Mary and her boyfriend J. Alcohol, methamphetamine, weed, and cocaine become part of his life, but he is careful to keep his job. He has difficulty sorting his feelings for both Russell and Jenny.
Antagonism grows between Stephenson and his friends and the always angry Swenson. He gruesomely kills two pet dogs and almost kills Stephenson several times by running him down with his truck, yet the youth are drawn to him for their drug needs, Russell being their go-to dealer. Jenny and Stephenson realize that Swenson has to be stopped and devise a plan to get needed proof of his drug dealings. Stephenson decides give up the drugs, which fortunately he is able to do, due in part because of his realization of what drug use has done to his friends and his love for both Jenny and Russell.
Stephenson continues the search for his mother after a chance meeting with a former friend of hers that leads him to the state of Michigan.
The book is gloomy, seemingly without hope, yet compelling the reader on through to the exciting climax.
Strom's book shows the devastating effects poor or non-existing parenting can have on vulnerable youth. It shows how illicit drugs are available even in small rural communities. It shows the assortment of products available and what people will do to get them. It shows the odd (to this reader) unlikely means users adapt to getting them into their systems. It also shows how the drugs affect the human body. There is no "one size fits all" in the time for them to achieve the desired high affect, nor how long it will last.
The author writes his characters and scenes with graphic clarity, with no attempt to gloss them over, but does leave the reader cheering for this group of unlikely friends.