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Michael Mirez witnesses a sexual assault and does nothing to stop it. Torn apart by guilt, Michael sabotages his own life, until one year later, when Michael unexpectedly crosses paths with the victim again. Michael is determined to make it up to Noah, a painfully shy Native American boy whose only ambition is to travel into space. But Noah doesn’t remember Michael; and Michael doesn’t have the courage to refresh his memory. And behind Noah’s attack lies a disturbing pastime with roots as old as America itself.
Quietly, without fanfare, Rose Christo released a new book last month. It’s yet to pop up across any reading/review sites I’m connected with; I only heard about it because someone else here at BioB mentioned it in passing.
I now count myself among the lucky few (I guess?) who’ve had the chance to read The Dogs of Balboa. Mind=blown.
MC Michael comes from a family of four kids. Growing up in a small town in New Hampshire, Michael is haunted by a rape he witnessed but didn’t stop. His school work is suffering and he’s not sure who or what he stands for anymore if he can’t step in when something horrific is going down.
Imagine Michael’s devastation a year later when he happens upon the victim of the crime in a restroom at Michael’s school. What’s this kid doing here? And how can Michael right the wrong he thinks he caused?
Noah is Native American. He’s a smart, thoughtful, painfully shy young man who has a pretty solid grip on his life. He’s haunted, yes, and skittish of strangers, of touch, but he’s a survivor.
Michael and Noah build a tentative friendship, but they both have deep, deep ulterior motives for maintaining their fragile bond. Michael thinks he owes safety and protection to Noah. Noah’s reasons won’t become clear until the very end of the story (and wow, will that revelation blow your mind…), but he’s determined to hold on to Michael tightly and never let go.
The Dogs of Balboa is probably one of the more thoughtfully crafted coming of age stories I’ve read in a long time. Throughout the book, Michael struggles with so many things, from learning when and how to intervene, to coming to grips with his sexuality, to finding his place in his family (this is HUGE), and finally, to accepting a devastating loss. For his part, Noah discovers he has a voice, that he can be a good friend, and that he’s a strong Native American with history and knowledge and family to share.
That quiet I’m so struck by with Christo? It hit me like a brick in the face toward the end of the book with a twist I never saw coming, one that nearly crushed my heart and definitely took my breath away.
What I love about Christo’s writing style is just how unassuming it is; there’s so much more to her words than meets the eye. I feel like her collective body of work is fine wine: it should be savored and enjoyed slowly. It requires reflection and thought when you’re done, but not in a way that’s hard to come by—it’s just a natural part of the process of reading her work. The Dogs of Balboa is (another) Christo gem I hope others discover and treasure for themselves, and soon.