Having read John Grisham’s thriller, The Client, I had doubts that any other author could write a Coming-of-Age novel that combines criminal investigation, a mystery and rite-of-passage experiences in such an intriguing and original manner. Then I discovered The Fort by Aric Davis! The reviews I had read praised the book, and I really liked its cover art (to me that is a factor in the decision making process of what to read next). So I started reading with high expectations and, after just the first few pages I knew I had made the right choice.
The action in The Fort is set in the late 80s in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Three 12-year-old boys spend the long summer days hanging out at a treehouse fort in the woods playing war games as boys do – pretending to be snipers with the air rifles their parents somehow agreed to get them. It’s the perfect time of their lives for such youthful adventures:
“Summer felt like a living, breathing thing, especially only a third of the way through. It was something to be respected and enjoyed, before its evil sisters, fall and school, came back to haunt them.”
While the boys are busy enjoying their well deserved school vacation (we have all been to school and know how important that respite is), a serial killer is roaming the streets of their town. Young girls are disappearing but, as most of them are prostitutes, the police are not pushing too hard to discover the criminal. Until one day a suburban girl from a supposedly good family disappears. Hidden high in their treehouse fort, the boys spy the killer holding a gun against the girl’s back.
They go to the police who, because of other evidence, are not willing to listen and believe the boys and they get into trouble. Yet, realizing they are the only ones who can help the girl, they decide to attempt it regardless of the fact that this could endanger their already ruined summer (they got grounded by their parents as a punishment for “lying” to the police).
“Three twelve-year-olds were playing in a tree house,” Van Endel began, “when they saw two people walking in the woods. One of them was a girl matching the description of Molly, the other one was an adult male with a gun. As soon as the two were out of sight, the boys ran off and got to a phone, then called 911.”
Reading The Fort felt like reading a modern day Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. Some reviewers have compared Aric Davis’s book to the novella The Body by Stephen King. Regarding the portrayal of adolescence and individuality, one could argue that Aric Davis’s writing is on a par with the most acclaimed authors of young adults novels. The narrative offers the opportunity for the reader to really get acquainted with the personalities of the three young protagonists: Luke, Tim and Scott.
“Luke just figured that different was different, and no kid wants to be the weird one, no matter what the reason is.”
The trials and tribulations of the childhood minds of the young boys are thoughtfully explored from the perspective of each boy individually, so that the reader can enjoy reliving their own youthful years – evidencing the nostalgic values embodied in any well-written Coming-of-Age novel.
“It is now the 1980s, and everyone is dating. Even babies like Tim go on dates if they’re not too ugly, or busy playing with their loser buddies. ‘Twelve-year-olds are dating?’ Tim asked. That was news to him.”
The novel is a very entertaining read with the tension building up as the action develops. The author does a great job of gradually building suspense at the end of chapters, exciting the reader and making one impatient to read on to discover what is going to happen next. The action is fast paced, the chapters the right length. One is never really sure of what will happen as the boys’ story is filled with surprising twists.
For a thriller, The Fort surprised me by the way it affected me emotionally – especially the final chapters. When I finished the book, I felt ready to give its author a standing ovation – and then decided that a review of The Fort would have a greater impact. Based on that reading experience, you can be sure I’ll search out the author’s other books. Do yourself a favor and read The Fort.