Jacob Hawthorne is only 15 when he is sent to an elite boarding school, a family decision he deeply resents. As it becomes increasingly clear to Jacob that his parents have abandoned him to the school, he does his best to try to develop friendships in an environment he sees as hostile. What follows is a classic coming of age story including physical and emotional challenges along with a moderate dose of very public rebellion. I was completely drawn in by author J.B. Hickman’s excellent novel, The Keeper of Dawn.
Jacob drifts into belonging to a small group of boys who become known derisively as “the Headliners” because they review the newspaper daily for mentions of their fathers, all of whom are prominent men. Jacob’s family relationships are severely disrupted but the family does everything it can to keep that fact invisible to the outside world — his mother is distant, his father absent, and his brother travels the world to escape the family problems.
Much of the early story is spent navigating through the typical boarding school experiences — bullying, humiliation, and the pressure to be sporty. Although these are well-worn themes of the setting, Mr. Hickman uses them to good effect to build strong, believable characters you will grow to care about. Each of the boys has his own story, and we see each of them trying to learn to be men in the absence of the paternal approval that is so important to a young man’s development.
Hickman is an excellent writer. He uses the isolated setting of the island boarding school in the same way that Melville used the ship — to limn the characters within an encapsulated, intense setting where the ability to escape each other or easily remove themselves from problematic situations simply does not exist, particularly when the storm (both figuratively and literally) begins to blow.
In addition to excellent use of the setting, Hickman has an ear for characterization — he has created the authentic voices of boys as they try to raise each other in the absence of parents. They embark on this voyage with all of the secrecy, camaraderie, and foolhardy bravado they can muster while doing their best to cover their hidden shame, doubts, weaknesses, and fears.
As I wrap up this review, I realize that I have in no way done the book justice. When a story lives and breathes like this one does, it is difficult to put a finger on why it works so well. It is much easier to write a review when there are parts that don’t work — they stand out and make the better parts easier to recognize. I can’t do that with this novel; it carried me along so well that I never stopped to ask myself exactly what it was I enjoyed. That may be the best indicator of an excellent story.
There is also more action in the book than I have conveyed – readers who hope for physical conflict, danger, and suspense won’t be disappointed. There were tense moments in the story when you hold your breath waiting to learn the outcome. You may also find the outcomes are not always what you expect.
This self-published book is professional in every sense, from the gorgeous cover to the skilled editing and proofreading. It is a pristine reading experience — you will not be unexpectedly buffeted by spelling or grammar errors.
Overall, this book fires on all cylinders. It can be enjoyed by teenagers, their parents, and grandparents. It can be enjoyed by those who prefer action over theme as well as those who prefer literary fiction. In short, I recommend The Keeper of Dawn for just about anyone who enjoys a good book. I look forward to J.B. Hickman’s next work of fiction.
You can purchase a copy of The Keeper of Dawn for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 at Amazon.com by clicking here.