Review Summer — Week 2

Up this week: When We Were 8 by Catt Dahman and Stale Reality by John Urbancik!

Title: When We Were 8
Author: Catt Dahman

The whole friends-coming-of-age thing usually seems to be more a boy-story, with adventures and mishaps and shared secrets. Maybe there might be a token girl thrown in, the tomboy or Bev-beauty, but most of the time, yeah, that subgenre is all about the boys. It is therefore a nice, welcome change to see something similar done with an all-girl group, as is the case here in When We Were 8.

It begins with a chance event, a car-vs.-dog accident witnessed by several young girls. Eight of them, as it happens … and all eight years old … giving a nice double-meaning to the title that carries throughout the book. The girls know each other, in that small-town know-everybody way, and have a few closer chummings among them, but until that day, they aren’t exactly all friends. If not for this incident, they might not have become so; the eight includes girls across the ranges of popular, pretty, poor, and peculiar.

Bonding by the experience, though, they do become a close-knit group. They also win the affection and gratitude of the dog’s owner, who takes them on as sort of honorary nieces, becoming an avuncular mentor figure. Through summers and vacations at the cabin, through years of companionship and school, they are eight.

But, along the line, things go a little dark and sour, though not in the ways you might expect. The girls, out of combinations of self-defense and revenge, develop a taste and a knack and a talent for getting rid of people who wrong them. Finally, the weight of their deeds push them apart, but they are brought back together as grown women for a final visit to the cabin of their youth.

And that’s when things REALLY go dark and sour. They are not the friends they once were. The resulting implosion quickly gets out of control. You just know, before the end, they are not going to be eight any more.

I particularly admired the author’s skill at juggling not only so many characters, but so many female characters, while keeping them vivid and distinct, and without stumbling or bogging down over issues like pronouns. It’s always effortlessly clear who is speaking or acting.

The one aspect I didn’t much care for, I can’t go into without spoilers, so I’ll just say I was disappointed by certain aspects of agency, influence, and empowerment. I would have liked it better if things developed without certain additional outside components. Other than that, I quite enjoyed the read.


Title: Stale Reality
Author: John Urbancik

Imagine just suddenly finding the world you knew is no longer as you knew it. Not, like, waking in a strange place, or gradually coming to realize things are different … but actually being right in the middle of going about your ordinary business when suddenly, vwoomp*, everything changes around you. (* the special effect noise I imagine it’d make.)

One second, you’re heading down the hall in the middle of the night to check on the baby, and the next – we’re talking mid-step – it isn’t your apartment anymore. Your family is gone like they never were, and some other people are there like they’ve always been. Needless to say, the current tenant takes exception to a strange intruder, and before you have a chance to explain, you’re on the run.

That’s the situation Kevin Nichols finds himself in. Wearing only the clothes he’d been sleeping in, no ID, no one who remembers him, no indications of his former life at all, he’s the ultimate stranger in a strange land that should be familiar.

And he’s not the only one. He’s soon contacted by others, an entire underworld of the lost and misplaced, each with their own troubled tales of what their lives used to be. Some are resigned to their fates, doing their best to get by. Others are anything but peaceful.

The story takes off in some fascinating, compelling, unexpected directions as Kevin tries to find a way to reset reality. He thinks he has a chance to get his life back,

I went into this book expecting something along the lines of Bentley Little’s Ignored, or one of those comic-book-type stories where someone gets chucked into an alternate universe or timeline and has to fight to get home. What I got was … both, neither, and more. Lots, lots more.