Waiting for Fitz
Shadow Mountain, 2019
Addie loves nothing more than curling up on the couch with her dog, Duck, and watching The Great British Baking Show with her mom. It’s one of the few things that can help her relax when her OCD kicks into overdrive. She counts everything. All the time. She can’t stop. Rituals and rhythms. It’s exhausting. When Fitz was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he named the voices in his head after famous country singers. The adolescent psychiatric ward at Seattle Regional Hospital isn’t exactly the ideal place to meet your soul mate, but when Addie meets Fitz, they immediately connect over their shared love of words, appreciate each other’s quick wit, and wish they could both make more sense of their lives. Fitz is haunted by the voices in his head and often doesn’t know what is real. But he feels if he can convince Addie to help him escape the psych ward and get to San Juan Island, everything will be okay. If not, he risks falling into a downward spiral that may keep him in the hospital indefinitely. Waiting for Fitz is a story about life and love, forgiveness and courage, and learning what is truly worth waiting for
Review by Karen Brown at Faculty Book Lunch:
In Spencer Hyde’s debut YA novel, Waiting for Fitz, we are introduced to a quirky and compelling group of teenagers who reside in the psychiatric ward at Seattle Regional Hospital. Told from the point of view of Addie Foster, whose OCD manifests itself in vigilant hand-washing and counting rituals that involve finger-tapping and counting blinks, Spencer’s story combines the pathos of mental illness with the comic relief of two witty teenagers whose puns, grammar slams, and associations with pop culture and the theater of the absurd leave the reader indulging in the power of words and pondering the meaning of life. The connections between the title, Waiting for Fitz, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, are played out as Addie and her love interest, Fitz, whose feelings of guilt and shame are exacerbated by the auditory hallucinations in his mind, consider breaking out of the psych ward. And what better place to contemplate the idea of waiting for something or someone that never shows up than in a psych ward?
Hyde interweaves the comedic, the tragic, and the complex and leaves us wondering, along with Addie, about some of life’s biggest questions. “What gives life meaning,” Addie asks. “Is it waiting for that thing, that person, to come along and make life more than just a series of absurd rituals?” Mixed with descriptions of Addie’s exhausting rituals is her snarky, authentic voice sharing gems of wisdom: “I still forget sometimes life can play out just like a drama. Truth is overlooked, ignored, searched for but never found, and only when we think the character can’t possibly make it out of the innermost cave alive, we witness a resurrection.” “We all flicker; it just depends on how willing we are to emerge again, and with how much light.”
Waiting for Fitz is about love and family and the meaning of life. It is about courage and forgiveness and figuring out, in a world that seems absurd, what really is worth waiting for.
An Unarmed Woman
Signature Books, 2019
Rachel O’Brien Rockwood, like her stepfather J. D., longs to hunt criminals and other miscreants. So when, in 1887, during the height of US anti-polygamy legislation, two federal deputies on the lookout for Mormon polygamists are murdered in the small village of Centre, west of Salt Lake City, she jumps at the chance to join the investigation. But detecting never runs smoothly—Rachel and J. D. butt heads regularly over method and approach. Rachel favors talking and uncovering motives. J. D. prefers tracking and searching for the murder weapon. Also there are too many suspects—nearly every villager wanted the deputies gone. As fast as J. D. and Rachel can uncover clues, the local Mormon bishop brushes them aside, insisting instead that the deputies committed thievery and fled westward. Whose theory is true—Rachel’s, J. D.’s, the bishop’s? Or will the story be shaped by the federal marshal, openly hostile to all things Mormon?
Review by Philip Snyder at Faculty Book Lunch:
Rachel O’Brien Rockwood, the feisty almost-18-year-old narrator-protagonist of John Bennion’s wonderful historical novel An Unarmed Woman, is not unarmed in the same sense as Walker’s indomitable Sofia. What Rachel turns her hand to, from horse driving to mystery sleuthing, holds no real threat of physical violence, although she does possess an independent spirit, a capacity for inventive swearing, and a persistent passion for justice. As her step-father, 70-year-old patriarch J. D. Rockwood, observes to her as the novel opens, “You have a tripping light tongue. . . . It’s all of a pattern, Rachel, your swearing, stubbornness, sharpness of tongue. . . . In many ways you’re mannish—more full of mind than heart.” Here J. D. identifies precisely the most fearsome weapon Rachel has at her disposal—her speculative, analytical mind. Further, as the novel progresses, Rachel also demonstrates that she has plenty of heart to go with it, achieving a proper and necessary balance between ratiocination and reconciliation.
It’s Rachel’s “mannish” ways, however, that endear her most to J. D. and make them fast, if sometimes ornery, friends and companions. In fact, he’s the very one who encouraged them in her. Their unusual partnership is essential to solving the murder of two deputy sheriffs who have been prowling about Centre, a small town in 1887 Rush Lake Valley, looking to arrest men with plural wives as part of the government’s crackdown on Mormon polygamy in Utah. Bennion’s mystery plot unfolds nicely with the genre’s requisite twists and turns, fitting climax, and satisfying denouement, but the real charm and engagement of his novel—besides his vibrant narrator and her interaction with other well-drawn characters—lie in the sensational historical, cultural, environmental, meteorological, and technical textures of his setting.
Much like Tony Hillerman in his Four Corners Leaphorn / Chee mysteries or C. J. Box in his Wyoming Joe Pickett mysteries, Bennion makes these rich concrete details as compelling and evocative as the characters and plot: descriptions of various hidey holes to escape detection by the “deps,” unharnessing a team of horses after a cold, snowy surrey ride, local impact of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, qualities of snow in the Utah desert, luxury of owning a Monarch stove, cufflinks carved from deer teeth on a linen shirt, assorted contents of a dead man’s saddle bags, grating dried apples to make Brown Betty after a ward fast, killing capacities of various firearms in town, perils of riding to the rescue side-saddle, and so forth.
All of the foregoing combine to make An Unarmed Woman a thoroughly complete historical mystery novel and, as Rachel herself might say, a “perishing sleakit” of a good read.