Nelson, Blake. The Prince of Venice Beach
June 3rd 2014
by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor; also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central.
Cali has a pretty good (if unrealistic) life. He has run away from foster care in Nebraska and is living on the beach in Venice, California. He sleeps in a tree house because a woman named Hope is helping him out, letting him use her computer and household facilities, and helping him with cashing checks. He likes to play basketball and manages to get by doing odd jobs. When he is approached by a detective, he's leery, but when he is offered a good deal of money to help find a missing runaway, he gladly obliges. This leads to more jobs of this kind, and eventually to one where he must search for a wealthy girl, Reese Abernathy. In the meantime, he hangs out with a friend, Ailis, who encourages him to attend community college and get his GED; helps clueless runaway Strawberry survive on the streets; and tries to neutralize the Evil Twins, who prey on runaways and tourists by stealing from them and terrorizing the area. When he finally locates Reese, he is charmed by her and believes her story that her father is evil and wants to hurt her. However, the detective who put him on the case thinks that Reese is off her medication and is a danger to herself. Cali, who wants more than anything to open his own detective agency, learns that deciding whether or not people should be found is often a difficult call to make.
Strengths: What a fabulous mystery! It's sort of like The Boxcar Children for teens! Living in a tree house, not answering to parents, surfing and spending time in the warm sunshine-- what's not to like! I can see this being really popular with reluctant readers, even though it comes in at about 230 pages. The supporting characters are all strong, the explanations for how Cali is able to live without the intervention of social services are plausible, the cover is appealing. There is even a very sensitive treatment of suicide which I appreciated very much.
I don't know why I picked this up with a terrible sense of foreboding that this author would use foul language. Must be confused with another author. Definitely buying a copy!
Weaknesses: As an adult, I had trouble believing that Hope would harbor a runaway, and also that law enforcement officers would hire Cali and not turn him in. Does make for a fun book, though!