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Boy on Hold

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A family-centered mystery that discusses addiction, mental illness, and parental relationships, this book is a light but thoughtful read.

Synopsis

2020 IPPY Gold winner for Best Mystery/Thriller!

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy. Hen Trout, who had hoped to catch a pet hedgehog that night, instead sees his beloved Miss Sally become a victim.

Single mom Marcella Trout is blindsided when Tyler, her seventeen-year-old, is arrested for the very crime Hen witnessed. Now Tyler's eerie mood swings seem dark and frightening and rooted in a family history Marcella has desperately tried to bury. As the criminal investigation churns on, the tenuous fabric of the Trout family begins to unravel...and even Hen begins to question the truth.

Boy On Hold by J.D. Spero is a well-written family-centered mystery novel that narrates the story of Marcella, Hen, and Tyler Trout and how they cope when Tyler is accused of committing a mysterious crime that involves their neighbors, the Hubbards. The crime untangles a thread of underlying issues surrounding their small town in the Adirondacks, such as drug dealing and corrupt authorities, and touches upon hard issues such as mental health, absent parents, and addiction.


This thriller establishes a very good pace. It takes the time to explore each character’s backstory and personal inner development and this is the way in which plot developments are revealed and advanced. All characters, even the sketchy ones, are likeable and a relatable to some extent because of this. Their dimensionality provides a very real portrayal of the characters’ behavior during the crisis.


The representation of mental illness, in this case psychosis, is not exaggerated or uninvestigated; it is probed progressively through revealing behaviors and thought processes. Although its representation may seem excessive to those unfamiliar with the condition, it is an authentic fictional portrait of psychosis in an undiagnosed and untreated state. The involvement of drugs is an additional facet which is quite related to the subject but also conveniently adds some darkness and drama to the story, which is particularly well crafted.


One of the main characters is Hen, who is a first-grader and is firsthand witness to a few of the dark ongoings of this family and the town. His innocence and good intentions provide both lightness and darkness to the story, and overall highlights the abstractedness of concepts such as “truth”, which is a word with a meaning that is always taken for granted. In a novel in which a mystery is probed and taken to court, keeping a degree of detachment from concepts which are generally interpreted as a universal standard (concepts such as “truth”, “friendship”, “family”, etc.) is a very good way to maintain uncertainty even as the final premise is revealed. Doing this on top of a plot that already works upon frail topics that are not immediately understood (such as addiction and psychosis) adds layers of enigma and works very well for the story.


Overall, this novel is well written with a thoroughly thought out plot. Characters are alive and vivid and varied, and even though they deal with dark situations, the writing still transmits some lightness through characters like Hen and Bernie and Marcella’s warmth. The discussion centers around the good intentions that often lead to misguided perceptions, and how a family deals with lifting the blindfold and finding the strength to face the mental issues and bad behavior of a family member. If you are looking for a mild mystery told through a family and neighborhood drama that features good characters and thoughtful writing, Boy On Hold should definitely be your next read. 

Reviewed by

Book editor, freelance content writer, and translator with a literature MA. I'm passionate about all kinds of literature and art. I enjoy editing, reading, and writing creative and informative content to the best of my abilities. Originality, insight, and entertainment are priorities for me. #Scifi

Synopsis

2020 IPPY Gold winner for Best Mystery/Thriller!

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy. Hen Trout, who had hoped to catch a pet hedgehog that night, instead sees his beloved Miss Sally become a victim.

Single mom Marcella Trout is blindsided when Tyler, her seventeen-year-old, is arrested for the very crime Hen witnessed. Now Tyler's eerie mood swings seem dark and frightening and rooted in a family history Marcella has desperately tried to bury. As the criminal investigation churns on, the tenuous fabric of the Trout family begins to unravel...and even Hen begins to question the truth.

October 1991


Henry Trout snuck downstairs, skipping over the creaky bottom step. He brushed his bangs out of his eyes with a Tai Chi salute and slunk through the dark house. Past Mom’s room. Through the kitchen. The youngest-ever nighttime ninja at seven years old, he slipped out the back door without a sound.

Dark quiet all around made his belly go goosy, even though his big brother, Tyler, taught him long ago not to be afraid. “Think of this, Hen,” he’d said. “When it’s dark, it’s dark for everyone. You don’t even need to hide. It hides you.”

Hen pulled on his Spiderman hood. The cold night air stung. Hen’s teeth chattered, making clicky sounds. But the Adirondack Mountains hugged him all around. Where they lived in Severance, near Paradox Lake, their street was like a patchwork quilt—the Hoggs on their left was a dark square, and Miss Sally on their right was a bright square. Their house sat in the middle, their square a blend of autumn colors.

Crickets chirped in the distance. How far away were they? Maybe hedgehogs were there, too. Hedgehogs were the coolest nocturnal animals, with tough-guy spikes on the outside and soft fur on their bellies. Miss Sally would know. She knew lots of things. Like, that hedgehogs were kid-friendly pets because they sleep all day during school and are ready to play in the afternoon. Hen already had a name picked out for the one he was going to catch—Louis. He always liked the name Louis. It was the best name for a pet.

Aha! Maybe Miss Sally would babysit Louis while Hen was in school, like she babysat Hen while Mom was at work.  

Tonight, in the deep night, Miss Sally’s bay window blinked different colors into the dark quiet. Like a disco ball. She must’ve fallen asleep in front of the TV again, slouched in her worn plaid chair. Hen smiled at the light. Wait ‘til Miss Sally saw his new pet. Hen couldn’t wait to see him, too. If only Louis would come out from wherever he was hiding so Hen could adopt him right and proper. Tyler said he needed a trap. But Hen thought if he was patient enough, Louis would come to him. Right in their backyard.

Hen ducked into his play tent and waited.

And waited. And waited.

It wasn’t Louis, but sleep that kept coming for him. The tent floor was like a bed—the grass underneath was soft and comfy. The moon made the green canvas glow like a nightlight. His yawn was so big it made a whooshing sound. He lay down, but made a promise to stay awake.

Louis could be there any minute! A little ball of spikes wobbling into his tent, his tiny claws scratching, his nose twitching. Hen could see it now. He closed his eyes. It was easier to keep still that way.

Stay still.

Stay quiet.

But stay awake.

He could do it. Don’t fall aslee . . .


A scream. Shrill and high-pitched. 

Hen shot up, knocking against the tent’s piping. Dark quiet was everywhere. Was he still asleep? Inside a bad dream? His stomach flip-flopped.

Another ugly noise. From next door.

Miss Sally’s house!

Hen scrambled out, rubbing sleep away.

Light from her window. Not a disco ball, just gray. Like fuzz on channel three. The sounds weren’t from channel three, though. Not from a dream, either. They were real.

Everything got really slow. Like someone hit slow motion on the VCR.

A jagged shadow stretched across the window like a Scooby-Doo monster.

Someone was inside Miss Sally’s house!

His heart moved into his brain, beating between his ears. He shook his head to clear it like a dog shook off water.

He looked again. Two shadows. The Monster. And another shadow—small, soft, hunched over. Miss Sally? They faced each other, like they were arguing. The voices were muffled, but angry.

Fear pierced his heart. He stared so hard his eyeballs went dry.

What was happening?

Something grew out of the Monster. A weirdly-shaped object. Heavy, by the slow way it swung around. Shadows splashed together. Then one huge, heaving blob, with sharp angles striking out. Like a fight cloud in a comic strip.

Was that what he was watching? A fight? It changed so fast. Like the darkness was trapped in a net. Hen wished he had night vision.

He inched toward Miss Sally’s house, gulping pockets of air like he was about to go underwater. He had to get closer. He had to see.

All of a sudden, it was really warm. Hot. His Spiderman sweatshirt was too much. As he crawled across the grass, wetness soaked through the knees of his sweats. It traveled up his legs and into his stomach and heart and brain. He was wet all over. Was it sweat? Or pee? Maybe both.

“Don’t be scared.” Tyler’s words rang clear in Hen’s mind. “When it’s dark, it’s dark for everyone. You don’t need to hide—”

It wasn’t working. The moon was a spotlight on him. He hid inside Miss Sally’s willow tree and peeked from the curtain of its long, wispy branches.

“Put it down!” Miss Sally’s voice was clear. “Get out of my house this instant!” A voice folded over Miss Sally’s. Then a thump. Like something heavy being dropped. The shadow blob flung apart like an explosion, leaving only one shadow standing.

The Monster.

“Miss Sally?” Hen whispered, the night taking his words in a steam cloud.

Hot tears pricked. But Hen wouldn’t blink.

Another voice. Distant, angry yelling. Hen felt a chill, recognizing it . . .

About the author

Johannah Davies (JD) Spero's four novels have won recognition from Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (2013), National Indie Excellence Award (2014, 2016), Adirondack Literary Award (2015), and Book Excellence Award (2016, 2020). She lives with her husband and three sons in upstate New York. view profile

Published on August 13, 2019

Published by Immortal Works

80000 words

Genre: Thriller & Suspense

Reviewed by

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