“Fear is a good thing sometimes. It strengthens courage. The two dance with synchronized steps.” …
Bend Me, Shape Me, the second book in Debra R. Borys’ Street Stories series, is set among the homeless shelters and the less desirable inner city neighborhoods of Chicago.
Jo Sullivan, a reporter who tries to give homeless youth a voice, becomes involved in the life of 18 year old Snow Ramirez after Snow’s friend kills himself with Snow helplessly standing by. Snow is convinced that her friend’s death was the result of his psychiatrist’s interventions which made him worse rather than better. She is also convinced that the same psychiatrist, who still has access to her young brother, Alley, presents a danger to everyone he treats. As Jo reaches out to Snow and Snow tentatively begins to reach back, Jo starts to believe that there is something to Snow’s fears.
Snow’s great uncle, Leonard, now retired from the tribal police force, has also recently arrived from the reservation to find Snow and Alley and bring them home if they are worthy. Leonard is conflicted about his role in the children’s life, having previously walked away from them and their alcoholic mother. Jo has complex, unresolved family secrets of her own. In the end, these three people, who have little in common and many reasons not to trust, must learn to trust each other if they are to help Alley.
I found most of the characters in Bend Me, Shape Me to be well drawn. Alley is the perfect picture of a boy with fetal alcohol syndrome. Snow, who has been diagnosed as bipolar (like many traumatized teen girls with legitimate anger) is a strong and compelling character. You will find yourself pulling for her from the beginning.
The author also brings a high degree of craft to the elements that make the story an experience you can see, hear, and smell; she has a talent for both descriptive language and dialogue. The conversations between characters, in particular, ring true. If you want your street people to speak a polite, formal language, look elsewhere. This story is a story of the cold winter streets and abandoned squats of Chicago where survival is difficult and language is colorful. Ms. Borys paints a picture that makes you feel you are there.
By making the shelter’s psychiatrist the villain of the piece, Ms. Borys highlights what many who work in the field already know – many people looking to victimize vulnerable populations gain access to victims by entering the helping professions. I don’t know if that was her point, but it is a sad fact that puts our at-risk children and teens at even greater risk.
There were some things I didn’t like as much as the rest of the story – Keisha, Jo’s room-mate, was an annoying, throw-away character for me. Additionally, there were a few minor moments with the villain of the piece that skated right up the edge of bursting the bubble of suspension of disbelief. However, neither of these things interfered with my enjoyment of the story or the skillful way the author built a fine level of suspense and then wrapped it all up with a satisfying conclusion.
My final thoughts are about the cover of the book: it is horrendous. The image is wrong, the fonts are wrong, the layout is wrong. This well-written, well edited, well proofread, engaging book deserves a cover that doesn’t give a first impression of being strictly amateur. Most people who see a cover that is so poorly done will assume the contents are similarly unprofessional – in most cases, that assessment will be accurate. What a great shame for people to pass up this book for that reason when the inside is so good.
I give this gritty suspense novel with bonus social commentary 4.25 stars for keep-you-up-late reading pleasure. At the time of this review, the novel was listed for $7.99 at Amazon.com. Click here to pick up a copy and enjoy yourself! (Just try not to look at the cover.)