Gail GabrielsonDo you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Erik P. Block does, and he describes it so well — so pitch-perfect — it makes one wonder just how far he is from it. Block holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Minnesota State University Moorhead, and lives in Fargo — not too far from the fictional town where fictional Jake lives.
Posted Dec. 29, 2011
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Erik P. Block does, and he describes it so well — so pitch-perfect — it makes one wonder just how far he is from it. Block holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Minnesota State University Moorhead, and lives in Fargo — not too far from the fictional town where fictional Jake lives.
Jake is a 16-year-old whose life is full of crap. Almost any teenager will tell you that, but for Jake, it’s real. His little brother Kyle has cerebral palsy and depends on Jake and his mother to help him with the basics of living. Jake’s mother is living on the edge of insanity, and Jake’s alcoholic father is living somewhere else — he’s not sure.
Working at a gas station, Jake meets Jackie, a pretty blonde who shows some interest in the boy behind the counter. After flirting with her, Jake says, “I feel weird and floaty, kind of like when you put your shoes back on after roller skating.” Yeah, that’s how first love feels.
So now Jake has one more thing to juggle — the potential for a girlfriend. He would like to tell her about his troubles, but he’s afraid he’d scare her away. And then the unthinkable happens: Kyle dies. Jake’s mother is sent over the edge. She has forgotten or blocked out the pain of Kyle’s death. She can’t understand why people are calling with condolences, or why she is sent home from work.
All Jake can think about now is finding his father to help him with all the things that need to be done. Jake no longer knows where his father stays or where he drinks, so he enlists the help of Jackie, who meets him at one of the bars in town. The overpainted woman behind the bar recognizes Jake because she knows his father. And then Jackie has a couple of surprises. Her life is nearly as crappy as Jake’s, and she knows where his father is.
“Just Jake” is written for young adults, according to the accompanying information, but this short novel would be a fabulous choice for any book club. There’s plenty to talk about: the dysfunction of some families, how alcoholism can run in families, and how closely genius and insanity resemble one another.
Block’s debut novel has all the right ingredients: a teenager’s angst of fitting in, experimentation with alcohol, and new-found love and hope for the future. He tells the story of a teenager with wit and heart, using keen observation of family dynamics.
Not all the questions are answered: Will his parents divorce? Will his mom stay on her meds? Will Jake use his musical ability in a meaningful way? Readers won’t feel cheated. We don’t always get answers in life. The most important question: Is author Erik P. Block is working on a second book? It would be a shame if “Just Jake” were an “only child.”
“Just Jake” can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Xlibris.com in hardback, paperback or e-book.
Gabrielson shares reviews of books by authors in this region at bookbag.areavoices.com