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Hawkes Harbor, by S.E. Hinton
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2004
Review Posted: 10/14/2006
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10

Hawkes Harbor, by S.E. Hinton

Book Review by Jeff Edwards

Have you read this book?

Jamie Sommers grew up tough. He spent most of his childhood in an orphanage, and then traveled the world as a vagabond, earning money wherever and however he could. Jamie rubs shoulders with pirates and gun smugglers, survives a short stay in a foreign prison, and even lives through a close encounter with a shark. Nothing fazes him - until he visits the quiet seaside town of Hawkes Harbor. There, Jamie releases something from centuries-long imprisonment - something that breaks his spirit, destroys his tolerance for pain, and leaves him in mortal fear of the dark.

Hawkes Harbor has been called "compelling and unpredictable" - an accurate description, indeed. Readers will find it almost impossible to close the short novel unfinished; it's much easier to gulp down chapters until the final page. The less said about the book's "unpredictability," the better - but when a character shares a first-class cruise ship cabin with a former captor, it surely ranks as one of the most unexpected and incongruous events in the story.

Unfortunately, most of the building blocks used to assemble the novel seem worn around the edges. Jamie is a walking cliche: a boy forced to grow up too soon in the orphanage. His later adventures on the high seas and in exotic ports of call seem like old tall tales told too many times. His sexual encounters (a rich, beautiful young woman who uses Jamie, then claims rape; two energetic girls who enjoy threesomes) come across as mere adolescent titillation. Even the narrative structure is unoriginal: The story slowly reveals itself through flashbacks while Jamie is undergoing treatment in a mental institution.

What saves the book is its psychological undercurrent. Throughout his life, Jamie unknowingly seeks a replacement father figure. For many years, he finds a substitute in Kellen Quinn, an Irish rogue who often cuts Jamie in on his various scams - but the trust in their relationship is never solid. Incredibly, Jamie gets what he needs from the creature he releases in Hawkes Harbor. Jamie's first meeting with "It" causes irreparable physical and mental damage, but in time, Jamie progresses past servitude and utter dependency, and readers will be oddly touched by the relationship's development.

H.P. Lovecraft once wrote about "the impulse which now and then drives writers of totally opposite leanings to try their hands at [horror] in isolated tales, as if to discharge from their minds certain phantasmal shapes which would otherwise haunt them." So it seems to be with S.E. Hinton. After a fifteen-year absence from the literary scene, the author best known for novels such as "The Outsiders" and "That Was Then, This Is Now" is back with an unusual story of a young man and the vampire that dominates his life for more than a decade. With Hawkes Harbor complete, Hinton may have successfully exorcised her demons. It remains to be seen if she enjoyed the experience enough to return to the genre one day, as the sun dips below the horizon and darkness settles over the landscape.
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