Spencer wasn’t the type of kid who would have teachers lined up asking about im. He was a weird, effeminate kid who made bad grades and rarely paid attention. He had blonde highlights and wore vests with fur. But he also wore a typically blank expression and once got a pen cap stuck between his front two teeth. This particular cocktail of traits made him a target for bullies but invisible to anyone who might defend him. And that anyone was me. He was invisible until he disappeared and then suddenly he was all I could see. Plastered across my mind like a million missing flyers no one would ever hang.
Set in small town Ruddy Creek, Arkansas just after 9/11 Ellis Mazer is newly hired to teach English to bored 7th graders at a small public school in Arkansas. After one of his students, a poor and friendless boy named Spencer, stops coming to school, Ellis tries to contact him at his home and discovers that no one knows where he is. Coming on the heels of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance Spencer’s father is implicated in, Ellis becomes concerned and worried and begins to search for Spencer, determined not to let him slip through the cracks.
When I saw the title Juggling Kittens, I was intrigued. When I read the first chapter, I was hooked! I loved the easy writing style, the suspenseful plot and the quick pace, all blended together to create an starkly realistic tale from a great new voice in the crime fiction genre.
This was one of those plots that will stick with me for awhile, revolving around the disappearance of two children in rural Arkansas and one teacher’s quest for the truth. It touches on that primal fear that everyone has, the horror of children in danger. Fueled by that primal fear and that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when faced with all the possibilities, you can’t help but race through the book to find out what happens next. The colorful characters really brought the story alive, creating a true to life world that could be anywhere in America. Along with the excellent plot, the story blends social commentary about America right after 9/11, from the atmosphere of worry and fear to the educational system to the often bleak existence of life in rural Arkansas. As the story unwinds, you see Ellis change from idealistic to disillusioned as he confronts several new realities.
I have to say, at first, I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was the point. Just like in the real world, life ain’t fair in Ruddy Creek. You have to take it as it comes.
Intense, darkly funny and unforgettable, Juggling Kittens is an exceptional debut mystery and Matt Coleman is an author to watch. Recommended!
Thank you to the author for a copy of the book, in exchange for my honest review.