Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Steepleton Chronicles

The Body of Christopher Creed (2000)

By: Carol Plum-Ucci

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Christopher Creed was always the weird kid, often bullied and dubbed a freak by his classmates. When he disappears, his classmates and the rest of the town begin to speculate about what happened to him. Was he murdered? Did he commit suicide? Or did he simply run away? Everyone has a theory and everyone is ready to blame someone else. For the protagonist, Torey Adams, his perfect world seems to be dissolving as fingers are pointed, blame is passed and the dirty secrets of his neighbors are revealed in the search for the truth.

This novel started out very slow, and I wasn’t quite sure I was going to like it. It is told from the perspective of one of Christopher Creed’s classmates, Victor “Torey” Adams, a young man surprisingly affected by Creed’s disappearance. Up until Creed disappeared, Torey had a perfect life – he was on the football team, had his own band, and was dating a beautiful girl named Leandra. Slowly his world begins to unravel as he sees the true colors of his friends and realizes how different he is from them.

Torey and his friends Ali and Bo are the only likable characters in this book. At first I wasn’t even sure I was going to like Torey, due to his secretive nature and angry outbursts. As he began to tell his story, though, everything made a lot more sense and I understood his behavior. Ali’s home-life is fairly disturbing, and Bo is the ruffian from the wrong side of the tracks who has a hidden sweet side. The rest of Torey’s friends were insufferable, especially the girls. Leandra is a “good Christian” that frowns upon gossiping, yet doesn’t hesitate to speak ill of people she feels are below her. Renee is willing to make up nasty rumors about those who do something to offend her, some being very serious accusations of law-breaking. She is very vindictive and I wanted to reach into the book and choke her. One of the most irritating characters is Chris’s mother, who is the first person to start accusing people of being involved in the disappearance of her son.

Once Torey begins hanging out with Ali – Creed’s neighbor – they begin investigating his experience on their own. This is in part of their own curiosity, and partially because he was a good kid and they felt someone should have looked out for him. This investigation leads them on an interesting path and reveals some secrets that the town would rather keep hidden.

Despite the incredibly irritating characters, the story was gripping. While the first few chapters moved a bit slowly for me, I whisked through the last 75% of the novel in one afternoon. When things finally got interesting the story moved right along and didn’t stop until the open-ended conclusion. At first I was a little bummed, because I don’t like my mysteries being left open for interpretation, I’m one for narrative closure. However, I discovered there is a sequel, which I cannot wait to get my hands on and continue on the journey to solving this mystery.

Overall: Slow moving at first, but after the first four chapters it becomes difficult to put down. It’s an intriguing look at the effect that the disappearance of one boy can have on an entire town. I’m happily awaiting the moment I can get my hands on the sequel.


Following Christopher Creed (2011)

By: Carol Plum-Ucci

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Drama, Fiction

It’s been five years since Christopher Creed disappeared from Steepleton and still no one is any closer to finding out what happened to him. Torey Adams has just about abandoned the website he created in Chris Creed’s name, and is now on his way to being a successful rock star. Bo Richardson joined the Army and Ali McDermott is engaged and on her way to her Master’s Degree in Social Work. They’ve put Steepleton behind them.

The reader is now seeing Steepleton through the eyes of college reporter Mike Mavic, an avid reader of Adams’s Chris Creed website, as he arrives in town to do a story on the missing boy. To the rest of the town, the disappearance is old news. A few of the local teens are convinced he’s dead, but not Chris’s younger brother, Justin, who believes he can will his brother home. When tragedy lures Bo, Torey and Ali home again, the truth is finally revealed.

Mike is a great protagonist, determined to get his story despite his disability (legally blind) but not willing to break any ethical boundaries. He’s a professional, but he can also offer insight to what Chris Creed might have been going through, having had similar life experiences. His girlfriend, RayAnn, is sweet and very intelligent, helping Mike with his stories, interviews and research. She’s a lovely character, and I would have liked to get to know her even better.

I loved that the author brought the original main characters back for the sequel, letting them play a role but not being the main focus. It was great to see the story from a new perspective, one that could offer insight to what may have been going on in Chris’s head the day he disappeared. I also loved the focus on Justin and what has happened to him since the first novel. He’s a troubled kid, having been diagnosed with bipolar and self-medicating with an increasingly dangerous drug habit. The mother Creed has come even more unhinged and turned to alcohol to comfort herself, making her even more irate and irrational when it comes to her children.

While the mystery of what happened to Chris hangs in the air until the final pages, this is his brother’s story. The reader sees how different Justin is from his brother. While Chris couldn’t deal with his controlling mother, Justin learned to stand up to her, and even takes care of her when she drinks herself into oblivion. Justin is angry at Chris for leaving and desperately wants him to come home. It is also the story of the town and what has changed since Chris vanished and Torey, Ali and Bo left for bigger and better things.

Plum-Ucci has crafted a well-thought-out continuation to her original mystery. The characters are likable and sympathetic and the story grabs you and doesn’t want to let go. The twist ending was something I didn’t even see coming and makes me want to read the novel again to look for clues leading up to the final reveal. This was a great follow-up and I can’t wait to read more of this author’s work.


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