Murder, mystery, Western’s campus and rugby intertwined may seem like a strange dream conjured up by freshman with a head injury, but in actuality, those themes are all a part of Western alumnus Harley Tat’s novel, “The New Boy.”
This novel takes place in the early 1980s and follows Andy Martin, a freshman at Western with a troubled past who finds himself on the university’s rugby team, the Warthogs. As the story progresses, Andy’s past begins to plague him more than usual as a series of homicides arise in the Bellingham area.
Upon finishing the first 149 out of 249 pages of the novel, I can confidentally say that I am eager to keep going and finish up the story and solve the many mysteries and questions posed throughout.
What makes “The New Boy” so exciting to read for myself, as a Western student getting ready to graduate in June, is that all the places I have grown to love and all the nuances that come with said places are mentioned constantly; with Bellingham being the primary setting of the novel, the author kept me excited about what was happening because I could say to myself “I went there yesterday,” or “Wow, KUGS was around back then.” The main character also alludes to places like the Horseshoe Café, Teddy Bear Cove and the Kappa dorms on The Ridge.
Although the novel takes places in the early 80s, there are many themes, quirks and references that can be applied to today’s society. In one of the early chapters, a high-school student having a VHS sex tape made of her is quite reminiscent of the recent surge of “sexting” and the like of today. Another quirk to the novel is the strange concept of no cell phones. A major hurdle that scary movies ran into in the early 2000s was the prominence of cell phones, creating a sure-fire way for characters to outsmart and outrun the movie’s villain. In “The New Boy,” certain situations and instances surrounding the murder and mystery of the novel seem so foreign to me, with my iPhone sitting on my lap as I read that Andy has to run to the nearest pay phone to call the police.
Even though the novel has so many familiar elements and intriguing plot twists and turns, the flaw I have found with the first half of the novel is that the author tends to tangent and linger. Whether he is taking the reader back in time to describe how something came to be or give background on a new character, Tat falls into the habit of completely displacing the reader from the current situation involving Andy to explain what his father did a decade ago. Though it is appreciated that the author is thorough and descriptive – his love for adjectives and knack for visually enticing the reader show through the pages clearly – he occasionally organizes the situations in a strange way, over-describes what, half way through the book, seems to be unimportant information.
The novel’s main character Andy carries the story along very well; he is extremely complex and relatable, especially when it comes to the woes that arise during most freshman students’ first few months at Western. Even though only 149 pages, I have established a slight connection with him making me worry about what he is going through since it appears he does not have many people doing so.
With many questions and unfinished business lingering around the center of the novel, I am excited to finish.