Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Review: 'Well Below Heaven' by Idyllwild Eliot

Well Below Heaven by Idyllwild Eliot

‘Dear Sammy, I’m in Siberia, in a slave labor camp. I mean it’

New author Idyllwild Eliot makes an impressive debut with WELL BELOW HEAVEN, a fictional novel based on her own journey and her desire to understand people and how their environments can impact their actions. 

Cleverly using the technique of letters shared between siblings, the story unravels effortlessly, despite the at times alarming aspects of this coming of age tale. To offer some excerpts is an invitation to explore the story that unfolds, and the opening Prologue is a letter from older sister Kelly to younger brother Sammy, written (apropos of a Prologue) in 2014 – ‘Sammy, Dad’s in the car already and Mom’s downstairs screeching for me, so this is it. But you need to remember something. Even though out of state – way out of state – was always the plan, NOW was not. Not until I’d graduated and you’d finished freshman year and we’d at least convinced them to let you play football. THAT was the plan – to come home from college and watch you juke. But it won’t be bad. Really. Eat your limas – use ketchup if you have to. Study hard and don’t do what I did and all the other sisterly crap I’m supposed to say. But I mean it. Don’t screw around where you shouldn’t and you’ll survive. OK – she’s about to stroke. Write me. Bye.’

So much of the story is in this brief letter, and so much of the style in which this novel is delivered. The story is as follows: ‘Seventeen-year-old Kelly is in a spartan boarding school in northern Idaho, sent away for drugs—as planned. Her little brother Sammy is left home in Missouri, getting ready for high school. He is quirky, quick, writes dark poetry and longs to play football. He’s also got a nose for trouble, and Kelly has left a truckload. And it’s sordid and dangerous. Her sadistic ex is involved, so is one twisted teacher, and so is the object of Sammy’s crush. Kelly warns him away, to no avail. He’s in too deep, and the repercussions could shock the town, and cost him his life.’

This well scribed story addresses issues not frequently encountered in novels about siblings, or about young people in general, and that is one of the reasons it works so well. The Young Adult audience for whom this novel is written may learn more about drugs, underage pornography, abortion, and parental and teen stances on these and other matters than the usual YA novel – and that is a very positive aspect of Idyllwild’s communicative writing. Crowning the angst is the sensitive focus on sibling relationships and the impact they carry. This is a fine novel, introducing an author who deserves our attention. Highly recommended.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.