Author: Sarah Skilton
Published: April 15th 2014
Publisher: Amulet Books
Format: Hardcover, 272 pgs
Source: Publisher for review
Framed for a stranger's near-fatal overdose at a party, blackmailed into finding a mysterious flash drive everyone in school seems anxious to suppress, and pressured by his shady best friend to throw an upcoming game, high school soccer player Charlie Dixon spends a frantic week trying to clear his name, win back the girl of his dreams, and escape a past that may be responsible for all his current problems.Somehow I knew right from the start that Sarah Skilton would surprise me. Her debut Bruised has a very special place in my heart, but it is such a spectacularly unique novel and Sarah Skilton’s authorial voice was hidden so well, that I didn’t quite know what to expect. The same remains true for High & Dry. Skilton is not a conspicuous, self-important writer. She hides behind her protagonists, making it seem that she played no part in the process of their creation and giving them a life of their own, a level of realism that is rare, precious and just wonderful. A strong authorial voice (like Maggie Stiefvater’s, for example), is a truly marvelous thing, but I believe it takes far more skill to hide yourself completely from the reader and leave your characters in the spotlight.
High & Dry is a story about young Charlie, recently left by his girlfriend Ellie, prone to self-destructive behavior and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. Interestingly enough, High & Dry gives off a distinct noir vibe, so much so that one can almost hear a young Robert Downey Jr. narrating it. There is a certain level of darkness and hopelessness in this story that, combined with a morally ambiguous and fatalistic anti-hero, has all the markings of a true film noir.
Our Charlie is careless, obsessive and self-destructive. He gives us very little to admire or even like. And yet, in the true anti-hero fashion, he makes us root for him nevertheless. Somehow, as he is running around heedlessly getting himself into even more trouble, he runs straight into our hearts and stays there until the end. So what if he is cynical and brooding? What if he lets himself be defined by a failed relationship? There must be an awakening ahead or else we wouldn’t be here, right?
Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Ellie is a young adult version of femme fatale, not because of something she did directly, but because of how Charlie sees her. Somehow, during their relationship and especially after, she has become Charlie’s raison d'être, someone who defines both his character and his behavior. It was heartbreaking to watch him self-destruct and deteriorate, obsess and almost stalk her.
For all his faults, Charlie is staggeringly intelligent, which in a way makes his behavior even worse. Skilton’s greatest strength lies in creating strong voices for her protagonists, and Charlie Dixon’s voice is very impressive. Believable male voices are so hard to find in YA, but Skilton got it just right.
However, if you’re expecting a repeat of Sarah Skilton’s Bruised, you should know that High & Dry functions on a very different emotional level and adjust your expectations accordingly. While both novels have angry, self-destructive protagonists, they are completely different and affect the readers in very different ways.
Skilton has proved to be a very adaptable, imaginative writer, unafraid to take necessary risks. I’ve come to expect wonderful things from her and I admire her greatly. If you’re looking for something different, you needn’t look further. High & Dry is wholly original and simply wonderful.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.