Jacob Hawthorne is less than enthusiastic about being forced to attend boarding school on Raker Island. Unfortunately, no one really seems to care about what he wants - not his self-absorbed mother, his absentee father, or his adventurous older brother - and so off to boarding school he goes. But once there, Jake becomes a part of the Headliners, a group of boys who band together after their fathers all make the front page of the papers on the same day. In the Headliners, Jake learns the value of friendship and finds that he's not the only one who suffers from constantly living in the shadow of a prestigious father.
Unfortunately, at this time, I was unable to find a video interview with J.B. Hickman. However, a print interview may be found here.
I loved this book so much more than I expected to. Written in the same vein as classics such as Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, The Keeper of Dawn centers around a bunch of privileged boys with serious daddy issues. Not my usual thing - but, again, it was on the reading list for class. However, this book stands out from the cliches. It's written beautifully and subtly, and I honestly could not put it down when I first read it this past summer.
What struck me most about this book was the plot twist at the end. It's probably one the most successfully executed plot twists that I've ever read. It came completely out of nowhere and completely blindsided me, much as it must have blindsided Jake. As I re-read it this past week, I kept the ending in the back of my mind as I read and I was able to pick up on clues about what was coming, but they're so subtle that the reader dismisses them without even realizing it. Truly brilliant.
This is a book that deals a lot with psychology - how boys must deal with living in their fathers' shadows, class issues, and how, as Mr. O'Leary (Jake's teacher/mentor) says, (and I'm paraphrasing here) the purpose of prep schools is so boys can form the right tribes/clans, and if they fall in with the wrong one they're lost forever.
I'd like to start with the concept of "daddy issues." In this book, Jake, Chris, and Roland all live in their dads' shadows. I guess Derek does too, but he really didn't seem as bothered by it - or at least, nowhere near to the extent that the other boys are. Chris' dad is a major politician and he tends to use his reputation as a family man to win votes. In response, Chris is just about the most rebellious kid imaginable - or at least, he is by prestigious rich kid standards. He's got giant wings tattooed to his back (a huge taboo in 1980, especially in the society that these boys associate with), he seeks out trouble simply for the sake of embarrassing his father, and he revels in drinking and sex (which isn't exactly atypical where teenage boys are concerned). Roland was my favorite character, I think. He comes from a long line of military heroes and he's expected to carry on the tradition. The problem is, Roland is a very peaceful, pensive person - he is so not suited for a military career. But he's so weighed down by the family tradition that he can't even consider any other path for his life.
Being that these boys all go to a prep school in New England, it's pretty clear that they're from the upper echelons of society. Jake tells us that his family is very well-respected in legal matters, and I've already touched on Chris and Roland's families' prominence. Derek's the exception. His family is "new money," and that's not really apparent until the boys go home with him over break and he throws a party that his dream girl refuses to attend because of his apparently lower class tendencies. I think this point is more subtly illustrated by the group dynamics. Jake is the narrator so we see everything from his perspective, and what's most evident is that he comes to view all of the boys, especially Chris, as older brothers - they're two years older than him and they really take him under their wing. But if you look at the rest of the dynamics, Chris and Roland are attached at the hip. They've been together since childhood and they are without question best friends. I think that Jake sees himself as the group's follower, but in reality, I think that it's Derek. He's not a part of this society - he is, but they don't really see him as such because he's "new money." He tags along with Chris and Roland but even though he's their age, because he doesn't have the same background as they do, he's not really a part of the group. He's essentially a follower.
Going back to the "tribe" aspects, Mr. O'Leary warns Jake not to hang out with the Headliners. He acts as a father figure to Jake at the school and he doesn't want Jake to hang around the boys because 1) they're two years older and he feels that Jake should be around boys his own age and, more importantly 2) they're TROUBLE. Or so Mr. O'Leary says. And I suppose he has a point: they wreak havoc from the very beginning and as the book progresses, their shenanigans get more and more out of hand. So yes, I guess they are trouble. But they're also really good for Jake. They break him out of his shell and make him feel important. He looks up to them and, regardless of what Chris' motives may be at times, they truly are there for him. I think this demonstrates the tendency to categorize people as "good" or "bad," when, in reality, we all have both qualities and even when people have a dark past, they still have good in them and can still be of value.
I think this book is fantastic. It is not a book that I would typically like, but the more I think about it, the more blown away I am by how well it's written and how much J.B. Hickman managed to pack into it. In my opinion, this is capital-l Literature and I think that if it gets the attention that it deserves, it could very well become a coming-of-age classic, worthy of being discussed in a high school English class. I know that this is a huge claim to make, but of all the young adult novels that I've ever read, I believe that this one has the most potential to become a classic. I highly recommend reading it.
In a public library setting, I think I would recommend this to just about any teen, but especially teens who I know have recently struggled with the loss of a family member or who are struggling to find their place in the world. I think that teens in either of these categories will be able to identify the characters, which will add to their appreciation of the story.