Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gatekeeper, by Ruth Crews (OakTara)

In the middle of page 28 of Gatekeeper, the author plants this deceivingly benign snippet of advice:
“Most of your life will not allow you to use sources for proof or inspiration.”

Although Ms. Crews didn’t feature it as a tagline on the front cover, she could have. And our heroine is about to find out why.

Anna Merritt, a vivacious coed from the southern United States, finds herself on exchange in the archetypal upper-British academic environs of Oxford. Unshackled by even the remotest degree of formality and tradition, Anna plows a ‘primitively colonial’ furrow into the neatly manicured grounds of the ancient and renown university, and especially into the lives of two fellow students: the spontaneous Eddie Mitchell and the reservedly detached Nicholas Diggs. Inseparable almost from the first day, the trio brave the academic stresses and social pressures of Oxford’s Saints College. But that’s just the beginning.

Everything proceeds as both Anna and the reader might expect, until one fateful day a ‘routine’ tutoring session unexpectedly thrusts her into a position to test the above-suggested tagline. You see, Nicholas Diggs is poised for destruction on his 21st birthday, a mere three weeks away, at the hands of the people from whom he would least expect it. Anna’s tutor, the enigmatic Dr. Barney, lays Nicholas’ future in her lap—then promptly disappears.

At the end of the term the three students embark on a whirlwind trip through Prague, Berlin, Paris, then back to Oxford. The trip provides the perfect scenario to help Anna forestall Nicholas’ day of reckoning. Or so she thinks. Anna is aided in her task by the mysterious Mr. Truman, who always seems to be at the right place just at the right time, and only divvies out information to Anna in just the right amounts at just the right times. The question is, does Anna have what it takes to rescue Nicholas, whose dilemma is diametrically opposed to her own inner struggles?

You’ll discover the answer to that question in the pages of a very cleverly written story by a promising new author, Ms. Ruth Crews. Her fresh, perky writing voice pairs wonderfully with her personal experience at the venues in which the story takes place to deliver a fascinating, humorous and poignant coming-of-age tale. You’ll find the repartee between the three friends to be absolutely priceless—especially for those who have visited the UK. Not only do Anna’s Americanisms wage battle with the boys’ British-isms throughout the story, but her right-brained English-major subjectivity clashes with the stodgy, ultra-functional outlook on life to which Nicholas clings so tenaciously. And Eddie? Well, Eddie is Eddie, and he takes shots at everybody.

Ms. Crews sets the bar at a very respectable height with her debut novel. Highly recommended for the genre. Looking forward to reading The Leaving, the second installment in Ms. Crews' “Gatekeeper” series.

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