The latest from contemporary YA powerhouse Blake Nelson is so filled with joy and voice that it’s impossible to put down. And I say joy not because it’s necessarily a happy story — some pretty messed up stuff happens in THE PRINCE OF VENICE BEACH. After all, it’s about a homeless teen and his street kid pals, solving mysteries and trying to stay out of trouble. The joy comes from Cali, the aforementioned homeless teen, who is perhaps slightly less homeless than usual, since he’s taken up residence in a kindly woman’s tree house. Cali left home to find a new life. And he has. And he’s happy. Especially when word gets out that he knows everyone and everything that happens on Venice Beach, and the local police want him to help in investigations.
It’s not long before Cali’s reputation gets him involved with private investigators, inspiring him to become a PI himself, and maybe even get his GED. But, he thing is, the PI’s he works with don’t always tell him what’s up with the people they’re looking for. He thinks he’s doing a good thing, but he isn’t so sure when he’s asked to track down a runaway girl — a beautiful girl, who doesn’t want to be found, ever, and for possibly good reasons. Cali has to decide what’s more important — his being a PI or this girl’s wishes. And he has to figure out if this girl is even telling him the truth.
Blake Nelson‘s characters are genuine, as gritty and real as the streets they call home. Cali’s story manages to shine a light on some of this grit, and find heart-warming truths in these “throwaway” kids — kids like traumatized, sweet Strawberry and the basketball prodigies with whom Cali spends his afternoons. THE PRINCE OF VENICE BEACH is beautifully written, a great summer read, and a great book for those who’d like to see a little more sand and sun in their noir.