Ocean State; Stewart O'Nan
Dreamscape Media 3/15/2022 and Grove Press
Narrated by Sara Young
"When I was in the eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl. She was in love, my mother said, like it was an excuse. She didn't know what she was doing. I had never been in love then, not really, so I didn't know what my mother meant, but I do now. "
From the first lines of this short novel we know that a girl has been murdered and that the younger sister did not understand why this happened.
Ocean State takes place in 2009 in the blue collar town of Ashaway, Rhode Island (actual RI town). What follows these jolting first sentences are the events that led up to this event and the fallout that resulted.
The story is told from the POV of (4) female characters though a series of flashbacks and internal thoughts. Carol is a divorced single mother who works as a nurses aide while trying to raise her (2) teenage daughters. She is a woman who doesn't always make the best decisions. She drinks a bit too much and seems to jump from one man to another. Her daughters: Angel 16, is in high school - she is popular and hot-tempered. Marie 13, adores her older sister but, she is lonely and has no real friends. She is bookish and feeds her emotions with food. Birdy is a petite, brunette and is the high school girl who was murdered.
Myles is the good looking, popular, jock that Angel has been dating for three years. Myles comes from a wealthier Rhode Island family and will soon be off to college. Angel by contrast works at CVS part time and has no college plans. Deep down Angel knows that their relationship is not a forever one. Myles has been seeing Birdy on the side and Angel eventually becomes aware of it. The sad thing is that both Angel and Birdy are in many ways quite alike, both crazy about a boy who isn't really worth fighting over.
Ocean State is a well-written and deep character study that gets to the heart of teenage jealousy and love triangles. It's a story that focuses more on what led up to this tragedy and the aftermath of those left to sort it all out. I found it hard to care about most of the character except for 13 year old Marie who I felt quite sorry for. This novel is quite different from any of the author's previous books but, it was extremely well written.
I began listening to the audio book, narrated by Sara Young, who sounded like a teen which was appropriate for most of the characters. However, I quickly became annoyed with the narration after she repeatedly mispronounced "Chariho", the school district and regional school the teens attended. I felt like the audiobook narrator should have taken the time to research the correct pronunciation of places, since the author felt it important enough to use all actual Rhode Island places in this book. I ended up switching to the eGalley making this short novel a combo read/listen. This book isn't really a mystery but, it is a very good story. I love the way this author has a real talent when it comes to describing the details of small town life and regular everyday people and their situations.
Rating - 4/5 stars