Title: Visitation Street
Author: Ivy Pochoda
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Dennis Lehane Books/Ecco
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
When June and Val, two fifteen-year-old girls, take a raft out onto the water in Red Hook, Brooklyn, neither of them know that only Val will make it back. June’s disappearance and the mystery of what happened to the girls out there on the water will change their small community, from the bodega owner who wants to bring the neighborhood together to a music teacher who drowns his sorrows every night at the bar downstairs from his apartment.
Visitation Street, which was handpicked to be the first book from Dennis Lehane’s imprint at Ecco, is so much more than a crime fiction novel. Yes, on the surface it’s about June’s disappearance and the investigation into what might have happened to her. But that is just a foil to tell a larger story: that of a neighborhood that is slowly dying, but is also being reborn into something entirely new and different. Red Hook is a place in transition, and that shows on every page of this intriguing novel.
At the heart of Visitation Street are its characters. Pochoda develops them so incredibly well; it’s hard to believe they exist only within pages of a book. Indeed, each of these characters could have entire novels written about them; that’s how well, and how intricately, Pochoda writes each of these people. They each have their own hopes, dreams, and fears, and the reader comes to know each of them intimately, hoping they will find some way out of their stagnant lives.
Pochoda’s settings are just as vivid as her characters in Visitation Street. Readers will be able to smell the air of Red Hook, to see the crumbling buildings. She even manages to make a seemingly ordinary bodega into an intriguing setting. Indeed, in many ways, Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner, steals the show in this novel. Though he seems like such a minor character at the beginning, his hopeful voice and generosity of spirit will move and inspire readers, even as he faces one disappointment after another.
Rather than being a novel about the grandest and most exciting of events, Visitation Street is a small story about a small community. Yes, the frame of the novel is a mystery, and a potential tragedy at that, but it’s about the characters left behind, who are affected by what happened in various ways, rather than the mystery itself that fuel the novel. This book is, quite simply, a stellar piece of writing, and it shows great promise for what might come next from this talented author.