It’s only been within the last year or two that I’ve really become acquainted with Rick Hautala’s work. The fact that we lost him last year really irks me, because I know that there won’t be any more stories coming from him.
One of the things I’ve liked about Hautala’s fiction is how well he captures childhood and adolescence while telling a very grown up tale. Not all of his work is like that, but much is. Indian Summer is a perfect example. While the protagonist is a 12 year old boy, the story provided plenty of thrills and chills for the adult reader.
This short novel concerns Billy Crowell, who goes along with some of his friends to watch a forest fire late one hot October afternoon. The boys get recruited to help fight the fire, which is pretty much under control. Trying to cut around and head off a portion of the fire, Billy gets lost.
While he’s wandering in the woods, he comes upon a deer that has been butchered. Billy runs until he comes out at a run down house. The woman who lives there, whose name is Ellie Martin, lets him call his parents. By this time the sun is going down, and Billy knows he’s in trouble. But once he tells his parents whose house he’s at, they change their tune.
Before he leaves, Ellie Martin asks him to come back. Billy is scared of her, but he also is attracted to her. He soon realizes he has a crush on her.
Billy finds himself in a tight spot. He’s both frightened by and attracted to Ellie. None of the adults seem to be willing to talk about her. And Ellie is very obsessed with something she believes lives in the woods…
I thought Hautala captured the pangs of being a preteen boy perfectly. Billy is just hitting puberty, and he wrestles with his attraction to Ellie. Hautala handles the awkwardness that comes with that age and those first feelings well, not shying away from the confusion they can bring but not dwelling on it. The result is an added depth to Billy’s character.
I liked the threat in the woods. I won’t say anything more about it except that the rationale behind it was believeable. And I got the impression near the end of the book that more people than Ellie knew about the threat but were pretending there was nothing to it.
Cemetery Dance books are aimed more for the collectors market and can be a little pricey for the casual reader. While a number of their titles are available as ebooks, this one unfortunately isn’t. Still Cemetery Dance does run sales and send out email coupons (often for half off), so it’s possible to get a good buy if you’re patient.