First Shot

First Shot

Author: Walter Sorrells

Publication: 2007, Dutton Books

Pages: 288

Overall Rating: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  David Crandall is a student at The Arsenal, a private high school with a long tradition of discipline and hardship.  Life at the school is not meant to be easy – it’s a tough place that seeks to encourage winners, and David’s life is tougher than most since his dad is the headmaster.  Nothing David does is good enough for his father.  The only thing he has going for him is that he’s good with a black powder rifle, and he’s been working for years to make it into a club called the Dartington Rifles – an act that will enable him to compete for the school’s highest honor – First Shot.  He thinks it’s in the bag when out of the blue a new student shows up at school to challenge him – the beautiful and hard eyed Misty Cleary, who’s good enough to compete in national shooting tournaments.

But despite this sudden turn of events, David’s attention is only half on the competition.  He can’t stop thinking about his dad.  His mom was murdered two years ago – shot with a black powder rifle.  They never solved the case.  But last week the police chief came around talking about new evidence and asking to search David’s house.  That night, David’s dad snuck out to bury something that looked suspiciously like a rifle.  Now David can’t help wondering if his dad is a murderer.  Soon David, Misty, and their friend Leo Jackstaff – a boy who comes from a different world of trailer parks and hardened criminals – find themselves hunting for a murderer and caught up in a conspiracy that could cost them their lives.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Despite some of the writing problems that I go into below, Sorrells did an excellent job of getting me inside David’s head.  I felt like I was really living inside his world, seeing life from his perspective.  I could feel him chafing against the confines of the Arsenal, struggling against his Dad, and grieving over the loss of his mom.   That’s part of the reason the book really works.

Black powder rife shooting is an important part of the story, and I liked the detail that Sorrells gives to establishing the importance of that tradition within The Arsenal, as well as the importance that shooting plays within David’s own life.  A major part of the book seems to take place on the shooting range – both as David strives to improve his marksmanship, and as he and Misty get to know one another through the act of shooting together.

What I Liked the Least: I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the writing.   There are a lot of places where Sorrells keeps using the same word over and over, giving everything a clunky feel.  For example: “I’m ready to move on, go to college, move on to whatever’s next.  I’m tired of looking backward, back toward the past.”

Sorrells also has a tendency to create emotional – or potentially emotional – situations that never get resolved.  That’s not to say he can’t do emotion well.  Some of his scenes come off as very genuine.  But in others the emotional reactions felt underwhelming and incomplete.

In order to create a hook at the end of his chapters, Sorrells sometimes writes things that make no sense.  For example, at the end of chapter 2, David points a finger at his dad and more or less says, “I know what you did the other night.”  Then, when his dad turns white, David takes off.   But there was no build-up, no having David think about what he’d seen and wondering if he has the guts to say it, and he never reveals what it was he saw.  I had no clue what was going on, and the next chapter has nothing to do with David’s accusation.  It just gets dropped, and Sorrells doesn’t come back to it for three more chapters.

Finally, Sorrells sets up a situation where both David and Misty are crack shots with black powder rifles.  Their shooting is used in the First Shot competition, but is never used in any more active way to resolve the main conflict – even though they’ve got some very dangerous people after them.  That was just one instance of Sorrells working hard to building up material that he never really uses.

How Good was the Action?  The action scenes aren’t stand out, but they are well done.  Sorrells provides some nice blow-by-blow detail in his fight scenes and keeps his chases tense.  That said, there aren’t a lot of fights, and even the chases are kept to a minimum.  The book uses action in moderation.  It’s more about the mystery – solving what happened to David’s mom and staying alive in the process.  And it’s that tight mystery that really keeps the story chugging along.

How Engaging was the Story?   Despite problems with the writing, the story itself was extremely engaging.  I flew through the whole thing in two days, and even when I wasn’t reading it I found myself thinking about.  David’s screwed up relationship with his dad, his blossoming friendship with Misty, the mystery of who killed his mom, and the growing threat to his own safety really got under my skin.  I found it hard to put the book down.

Unfortunately, as much as the book got to me, the ending felt flat.  Everything is resolved, and the resolution makes sense, but David’s role is secondary and only explained after it’s all over.

Overall Assessment: This book clearly has issues.  I had real problems with the writing, and plenty of things to dislike.  And yet, for all the book’s problems, I steamed through it in two days and could hardly put it down.  I’ve been thinking about that a great deal as I write this review, and the truth is that I can’t tell you what made this book so fun to read.  It just was.  The whole time I was reading it I kept coming across things I didn’t like and sections of the book that made me stumble, and yet I couldn’t make myself stop.  There was some unidentifiable aspect of the story that kept me coming back for more.  If you’re the kind of person who’s a stickler for good writing you may find yourself getting sidetracked a little too often for this to be an enjoyable read.  On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who just loves a compelling story then this book will be right up your alley.  Go for it.

Profanity: Minimal, and the words used were generally not that serious.

Sex: None, though there are a few mild sexual references.

Violence: Some.  People do get threatened with guns, and David is trying to investigate the murder of his mother, but blood is kept to a minimum and the violence that does occur is not at all graphic.

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