Novel shows teen's wisdom

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2011

“Mercy Creek,” by Matt Matthews. Hub City Press, Spartanburg, S.C. 2011. 211 pp. $24.95.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
Matt Matthews won the South Carolina First Novel Prize with “Mercy Creek,” a gentle, but compelling story of a teen growing up.
Isaac Lawson’s mother has died of cancer. His father is the Presbyterian minister in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Isaac loves baseball, but he’s spending the summer working at the local hardware store.
He’s lonely and confused, missing his mother, realizing his girlfriend isn’t his anymore. He misses his baseball buddies, but he needs some money. His Dad isn’t doing so well either. Things like groceries and housework escape his mind — and so does Isaac. The reverend is seeing a lady from the church, too.
So when Isaac hears of a $5,000 reward for information on a series of vandalisms, he decides to solve the case for the reward money.
It’s not long before he finds out just how dangerous and difficult solving the crime is. People are coming home to flooded houses, with water running and drains plugged, flames painted on bedroom walls.
The old guys around the hardware store stove blame it on kids; a particularly unpleasant man has his eyes on Isaac.
Isaac’s a smart kid, and it doesn’t take him long to start seeting the connections. And it doesn’t take too much research to find out a horrible secret from the past, a story of prejudice and suffering that he finds extremely painful.
It gives him his chief suspect, which at first seems all too obvious. But the author plays it out nicely, telling a story of Isaac and small towns and hatred and hope. The story resonates in the drowsy heat of a shore summer. Matthews doesn’t let harm come to his hero, but he imparts some valuable lessons in a book that is a bright spot in the coming-of-age genre.
There’s forgiveness and regret here, and a good example of understanding the deadly cold of revenge. It’s a good book for teens and adults that makes its point with feeling and not flash.

Matt Matthews, winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize for his new book, “Mercy Creek,” will
sign his book Friday, May 6, 7 p.m., at Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St.