Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak

One for Sorrow is the debut novel of local author Chris Barzak. It is an engaging coming of age tale split in its setting between rural Trumbull County and Youngstown, Oh. Readers are drawn to Adam McCormick, a lonely fifteen year old whose family life is slowly unraveling because of his parents constant bickering. The closest person he has for a friend is Jamie Marks, another boy who has difficulty fitting in at school or at home. Life changes dramatically when Jamie is murdered.

Chris Barzak successfully captures the feeling of growing up in rural, northern Trumbull County. There is an isolation out there, created by the open spaces between the homes, that gives rise to a certain kind of strangeness. Youngstown and Warren may have violence due to gangs and drugs but if you head north up Route 7 the violence becomes more casual. Barzak's descriptions of bullying in high school hallways is dead on. As class sizes grow smaller, the kids to be picked on stand out more prominently to those who will get their jollies by pushing them into lockers or picking on them through class. Trumbull County does not yield a lot of homicides but it is a place where there is an undercurrent of bad feelings that constantly threatens to break through. Homicides that do take place there are strange and often more brutal than necessary. Barzak seems to be working through some issues related to at least one high profile murder from the 1980's.

As Adam deals with the death of Jamie, he begins a journey of what it means to be alive. It is easy for him to lose himself with his friend's ghost, giving more and more of himself to keep him close but before long he realizes that there may not be much left of himself. His trek takes him to Youngstown and Barzak does a throughly good job of describing the city. Here, it is the Youngstown that is familiar to everyone, warts and all. From Adam's entrance across Gypsy Lane, to Stambaugh Auditorium, down to YSU and on to the South Side via Market St., Barzak shows us the good and the bad. Both the city and rural Trumbull County become characters in the story as they are described in rich detail.

In the end, Chris Barzak delivers a novel that explores adolescence with honesty. No matter where you grew up, you will be able to empathize with Adam's struggles as he comes to terms with his family, his friend's death and his place in the world.

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