Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Prince of Venice Beach Book Review

Title: The Prince of Venice Beach
Author: Blake Nelson
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0316230483

240 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Robert "Cali" Callahan is a street kid. He ran away from a foster home in Nebraska when he was 14 and headed for sunny California. Now he's 17 and he spends his days surfing, skateboarding, and playing basketball with his friends.

But he'll be turning 18 soon and that means he doesn't have to duck social services anymore with the fear that he'll be sent back to Nebraska. He's starting to think about the future because he knows he can't always live in the tree house in a hippie's backyard.

Cali realizes that his one true talent is finding people. He knows everyone around Venice Beach and he knows how to get people to talk. So when a cop he knows asks him to be on the lookout for a recent runaway, and that there's some money in it for him for finding the kid, Cali does the job.

That leads to more jobs finding people. And Cali thinks that he could have a real future being a private detective. He starts taking GED classes. He designs a business card.

But then things become more complicated. The jobs he gets are shadier than he's prepared for and he ends up in over his head. Especially when beautiful runaway Reese Abernathy finds him first.

The Prince of Venice has a noirish vibe as Cali falls hard for Reese and gets caught in a web of lies and betrayals. It's a quick read that might appeal to reluctant readers, but I had a couple of quibbles with it.

First of all, the language is really flat. There's a lot of telling as Cali describes what he does and where he goes. Second, this is a extremely romanticized view of life as a street kid. I live near Venice Beach and I see these kids all the time. The casual drug use, the public urination, the panhandling ... all of this is missing from Cali's world. So if you're looking for a gritty tale of life on the street, look elsewhere.

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