Visitation Street

By Ivy Pochoda

(Ecco/Dennis Lehane, $25.99, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Ivy Pochoda, who once was a professional squash player, now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, but she grew up in the Cobble Hill neighhorhood of  Brooklyn and also lived in Red Hook, the setting for her second novel, “Visitation Street.  She also is the author of “The Art of Disappearing.”

Best-selling author Dennis Lehane selected “Visitation Street” to be the second book published under his new HarperCollins imprint.  Here is what he has to say about it:

“Visitation Street is urban opera writ large. Gritty and magical, filled with mystery, poetry and pain, Ivy Pochoda’s voice recalls Richard Price, Junot Diaz, and even Alice Sebold, yet it’s indelibly her own.”

What is this book about?

Red Hook, like so much of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a working-class place undergoing massive cultural change as gentrification takes hold and hordes of hipsters move in and begin to crowd against the housing projects. In this book, it is summer in Red Hook and two bored teenage girls seek some excitement one night by taking a raft out into the bay. But something goes terribly wrong: they disappear and then one, Val, turns up hurt and unconscious on the shore. Her friend June is apparently gone forever. The book shows how this affects various neighbors, like Fadi, a Lebanese man who owns a bodega that he hopes will become information central about June; Cree, the son of a murdered man who unwittingly brings suspicion on himself; and Jonathan, a drunk who dropped out of the Juilliard school and harbors a difficult  past. Val, of course, has issues of her own and a secret she can’t reveal.

Why you’ll like it:

Nothing satisfies a reader like a well-told story with compelling characters, a plot that grabs her interest and a voice that is beautifully expressive. Pochoda gives us all of that and more, making, through her powers of descriptive writing, Red Hook itself stand out as a character in itself. Reviewers are gushing over this literary thriller’s vividness and puzzle of a plot, and the way Pochoda peels back the layers of the story. This is one of those satisfying book in which the way it is written is just as important and powerful as the story it tells.

What others are saying:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013 review says: A crowd gathers on the corner of Visitation Street after the disappearance of two local girls–one of whom has washed up on shore, barely alive–and our narrator teases: “The story develops slowly.” The same can be said of Ivy Pochoda’s atmospheric debut, which is as much an ode to the ragged neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn as it is a slow-burning mystery. At times I felt I was reading of some foreign or forgotten city, a moody and crumbling place in the shadow of Manhattan. While the damaged-goods characters are quite memorable–a woman spends her days “speaking” to her dead husband; a music teacher drinks to oblivion, haunted by his dead mother; an immigrant shop owner dreams of a better Red Hook–the star here is “the Hook.” One character describes it as “a neighborhood of ghosts,” where trash rolls like tumbleweed–hazy, smelly, noisy, blue collar, crime-ridden, yet full of heart and hope. Says one character, who wants to flee Red Hook in the boat his murdered father left him: “It’s not such a bad place … if you look under the surface.” The same can be said of Visitation Street, a deceptively literary tale that brings to mind its benefactor, Denis Lehane, who published the book under his new imprint.

Says Kirkus Reviews: “A mystery about a missing girl and the ghosts she leaves behind. One summer evening, teenagers Val and June float on a rubber raft out into the bay off Brooklyn’s Red Hook section. Only Val returns, her near-dead body washed upon the shore. But Val can’t seem to tell anyone what happened to them or why June disappeared without a trace. For weeks afterward, the Lebanese shopkeeper Fadi tries to keep his customers informed about developments and neighborhood rumors in the case. Meanwhile, Jonathan, an ex-Julliard student turned jingle writer and music teacher, may be getting too emotionally close to Val. The novel’s focus isn’t on the police investigation, but on the missing girl’s effect on her neighbors and friends. Who saw Val and June take the boat out? Can June possibly be alive? Can young Cree tell what he knows without being automatically accused of a crime since he’s a black man? The book is rich with characters and mood and will make readers feel like they’ve walked the streets of Red Hook. Everyone in the story deserves a measure of sympathy, from the girls on the raft to the shoplifting teenager to the pathetic uncle who won’t tell anyone anything for free. Red Hook itself feels like a character–hard-worn, isolated from the rest of New York, left behind and forgotten. A terrific story in the vein of Dennis Lehane’s fiction.”

“Exquisitely written, Pochoda’s poignant second novel examines how residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood deal with grief, urban development, loss, and teenage angst. In a fit of boredom, 15-year-old best friends Val Marino and June Giatto take a raft out on the bay one July evening, but only Val returns, her unconscious body washed up on the shore. June’s disappearance and what might have happened on the raft become the linchpin for Fadi, a Lebanese native who wants his bodega to be the pulse of neighborhood news; Jonathan Sprouse, a Julliard dropout with dark secrets; and 18-year-old Cree James, a kid from the projects who longs for a better life but remains stymied by his father’s murder. Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing) couples a raw-edged, lyrical look at characters’ innermost fears with an evocative view of Red Hook, a traditionally working-class area of Brooklyn undergoing gentrification that still struggles with racism and the aftermath of drug violence. By the end, the gap between “the front” of Red Hook with its well-tended streets near the waterfront and “the back” with its housing projects remains wide,” says  Publishers Weekly.

Library Journal says: “Pochoda’s second novel …is the second book from Dennis Lehane’s eponymous imprint at Ecco …and it’s easy to see why he’s throwing his significant weight behind her work. Set in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, the novel opens on a warm summer evening when 15-year-old Val and June push a small pink raft onto the bay and set sail. Only Val makes it back to shore, and as the resulting drama unspools as readers meet a full cast of utterly believable characters including Fadi, a shopkeeper-turned-newsman; Cree, a local boy who winds up targeted by the police; and Jonathan, a music teacher who gets entangled in the mystery of June’s disappearance. It’s an opera set in one small community, and as Val struggles to cope with the loss of her friend and the neighborhood characters play their parts, large and small, Pochoda’s riveting prose will keep readers enthralled until the final page. VERDICT The prose is so lyrical and detailed that readers will easily imagine themselves in Red Hook. A great read for those who enjoy urban mysteries and thrillers with a literary flair.”

In The New York Times, Alexander Nazaryan writes: “Fans of Richard Price will immediately recognize his New York here, with its barely concealed ethnic tensions played out on a landscape of grit sprinkled with flecks of beauty…despite the perfunctory presence of two detectives, this is not a paint-by-numbers thriller. As June’s disappearance grows longer, and the flowers on her dockside memorial begin to wilt, it becomes clear that “Visitation Street” is less about the one who is missing than the ones who remain…Teenage girls are always going missing in mystery novels; something about their mixture of youthful innocence and nascent sexuality must make them ripe subjects for mystery writers. So while they are often convenient plot devices, they are rarely conceived as fully as Ms. Pochoda’s Val…”

When is it available?

You can visit “Visitation Street” at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch.

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