Review: VISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda

VisitationStreetPochodaI21813_fThe only thing better than finding a new great crime novel is finding a new great crime novel that I can recommend to people who profess not to like the genre. VISITATION STREET is the latest addition to my list of such delights. It is a terrific read but barely scrapes into the generally accepted confines of the genre.

The incident around which the story builds occurs on a hot summer evening in Red Hook, a working class neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York. Teenagers Val and June are bored and hot so decide to take a hot pink rubber raft down to the water. The next morning Val is found alive but unconscious on the shore. June has disappeared.

The book depicts the impact of this incident and its aftermath on the local community and a selection of its inhabitants. Val is an obvious choice as someone the reader would be interested in reading more about and indeed her mixture of guilt, obsessive behaviours designed to bring June back and teenage desperation to be an adult are compellingly described. But for me it is the book’s less obvious character studies that set it above the average read. Together these ordinary people – including Fadi the bodega owner who believes he can draw people together in the wake of the tragic events, Jonathan the music teacher haunted by his own ghost, Cree a black teenager whose psychic mother spends all her time talking to his dead father, Monique an old friend of June and Val’s – manage to provide an extraordinarily captivating picture of a community in which conflict and togetherness are equally influential forces.

One of the reasons I think this will appeal to a broader cross-section of readers than die-hard crime fans is that the incident – June’s disappearance – is for long passages not the focus of the book. There are other ghosts to hear from, other dreams to follow, other people’s redemption to wait for. Though traditionalists will be pleased that there is a resolution to the mystery element of the story even if it is not brought about by the usual dogged police work.

To top off VISITATION STREET’s list of strengths is that from its eponymous street, on which several key characters live, to the nearby housing projects and dangerous shoreline with requisite dingy bar the book is infused with such a strong sense of its location that if I half-believe I’ve been there myself.

Apart from the few confused souls (most of whom seem to have completely misunderstood the meaning of the Dennis Lehane publishing sticker on the cover) hanging out in the 1-2 star zone of the book’s Amazon reviews page VISITATION STREET has received almost universal praise and, for once, I am in complete agreement. Read it. Even if you don’t like crime stories.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

USAFictionChallengeButtonThis is the second book I’ve read that I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge for which I’ll read books set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Sceptre [2013]
ISBN 9781444778250
Length 306 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone

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15 Responses to Review: VISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda

  1. TracyK says:

    Sounds great. I have this book and hope to read it soon.

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  2. Jose Ignacio says:

    Wow!, Bernadette, You have said it better than I could, great review. Am glad you enjoyed it that much.

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  3. Kathy D. says:

    Gosh! I had listed this book on my humongous lists, but now I’m definitely in! I must read this book soon, so up it goes on the top of the list — and I rush to the online library website and try to reserve it. Hopefully, it’s there.
    And the Red Hook location — interesting. I once got lost out there, looking for a subway station. I almost ended up in the Gowanus Canal, another time for that story. It’s quite a setting for a book, but this sounds right up my “alley,” pun intended.
    And another woman writer, too. All good.

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    • I think you’ll like this one Kathy. The Red Hook location was a completely new environment for me but I still feel like I have been there – I imagine if you actually have visited that part of New York you’ll be even more interested in all the little details she provides.

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  4. Bernadette, this review echoes my own (http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.ie/2014/01/review-of-visitation-street-by-ivy.html). A thoughtful literary crime story that approaches the genre at an oblique angle to most books. Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve been recommending it to folk too.

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  5. Jon Page says:

    I loved this book too.

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  6. Other reviews have made me think I should try this book, and yours just confirms that… thanks Bernadette, your reviews are always really helpful and spoiler-free.

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  7. Thanks for the rec Bernadette!

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  8. Bernadette – Just from your description I can tell that this one has a really powerful sense of place. That and the unusual characters have definitely got my interest. Thanks.

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  9. Keishon says:

    Terrific review. I have this one and read the first couple of a chapters to get a feel for it. She’s an excellent writer. I thought it amusing to see the criticism/confusion directed at Dennis Lehane when he wasn’t even the author the of the book. This is the second book under his imprint and I read that he’s super picky about what books he puts his name on.

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    • Keishon I agree it is funny that a few people couldn’t seem to tell the difference between the author’s name and the publisher’s sticker. I’m actually not a huge Lehane fan but I can see why he’s picked this book, it’s not a million miles from the sort of thing he does. Anyway I hope you like it when you get to reading the whole thing.

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  10. Patti Abbott says:

    Very anxious to read this one.

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  11. Pingback: Books of the month: February 2014 | Reactions to Reading

  12. Kathy D. says:

    I loved this book. Thanks for your rave review. It led me straight to the library and the book. A perfect book in all respects for me, my favorite March read.

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