Tuesday, May 31, 2016


"If being a foster kid teaches you anything, it's how to walk away without looking back."

Some writers, no matter what or who they are writing, put such heart in and behind their words you can't fail to feel it. Bill Cameron is one of those writers. No matter if it's his gritty adult crime fiction Skin Kadash series, a short story, or his new foray into full-length Young Adult fiction, Bill can't hide his humanity, and that's a pretty cool thing.

Skin Kadash and Ruby Jane are two of the finer characters you will read about anywhere, but Bill's heart has never been more evident than in Property of the State: Book One of The Legend of Joey. Whether good guy or "bad" guy or somewhere-in-between-guy (or gal), his characters are so real and layered you can even muster some measure of empathy for the ones you want to smack upside the head or give a shot to the pills.

Joey Getchie, 16, has been in the foster system longer than he was with his parents. Since he lost them ten years ago, he's been shuffled from foster home to foster home, gaining a problematic reputation and a healthy mistrust of adults along the way.

But Joey has a capital "p" Plan - graduate early from Katz Learning Annex, file for emancipation, and get out of Dodge; away from the school establishment, the foster system, his current foster debacle, and start a new life.

He's biding his time, making ends meet by cleaning the "stately Huntzel Manor" (hired by Mrs. Huntzel, school volunteer and mother of Katz student Philip), hanging out with fellow foster and schoolmate Trisha, and trying to keep a low profile until he can implement The Plan.

But Joey has never been lucky and the water he's treading never seems to stay smooth for long. He's already in trouble at school after being blamed for acts of his current foster father when a student is badly injured, putting Joey in the crosshairs and The Plan in further peril.

Joey is a character you can't help but pull for. He's bright and a survivor. He's also a smartass and a curmudgeon (a kid after my own heart, he joins the chess club for the sole reason that it meets in one of the only quiet rooms in the school and Joey longs for quiet in the chaos). He doesn't trust anyone, and while you can't really blame him, if it doesn't break your heart to watch him deflect even those who really are on his side, it must be made of coal.

Bill writes a great mystery and there is plenty of it folded up in the nooks and crannies of Property of the State. Who hurt Joey's classmate? Why is Trisha suddenly acting out? And what, pray tell, is going on at the Huntzel house, where Mr. Huntzel is rarely seen, Philip is engaging in some 'interesting' behavior, his sister is an even rarer bird than his father, and Joey uncovers some baffling oddities during his cleaning routine (plus a bit of snooping and super top secret residency after he runs away from his foster home).

I've been hankering for more Bill Cameron since I devoured County Line on a plane in July 2011. It was worth the wait. Property of the State is smart, real, and heartbreaking. Here's hoping it's Book One of many.

STREET SENSE:  I'm not a huge label fan. Whether you actively read YA or not, this is a book for anyone who enjoys good, intelligent mysteries, humor (Bill nails Joey's voice), multi-faceted characters with depth (Bill includes character details that are so smoothly integrated they feel completely natural despite their uniqueness), some smartassery and relevant teen lingo (I even had to Google one term), a little pop culture, and all the heart you can bear. There is a portion of this book that broke me but good. Trust me, you'll know it when you read it.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: Unfortunately, I can't include my favorite portion. It's best left to the reader to discover within the confines of the book. But there is so much goodness here I still had trouble narrowing this down. I'm going to provide you two passages that were favorites and give you a sense of Joey's voice. His head is an interesting place to be:

"Why did it have to happen?"
The question makes no sense. Trisha understands as well as anyone there is no why. Shit happens isn't just some hipster tee-shirt philosophy. Fosters know this better than anyone. Our lives are one long string of shit happening. Life's a bite and then you die. Along the way, you leave bits of flesh on every snag. What's up?  Oh, you know, bleeding out. Same as every other day.

This bit is pro-level curmudgeonry and I love it:

At Katz, lunch is a full period. I live for the hour of peace. Lose a game of chess, then relax amid the tip-tap  of pieces moving on boards and the occasional murmur. "Good move." "You really want to do that?" "Check." Even an ejaculation of chess-thusiasm was no more disruptive than wind scattering leaves. It was like living inside the Golf Channel.

C'mon. "Ejaculation of chess-thusiasm." That's gold right there.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I've always loved the covers of Bill's books. The cover for Property is smartly different than his series books, but no less effective. I love everything about it - from the image to the palette to the hoodie "A" in State. It's moody and dark, which is appropriate from an emotional standpoint. There are some tough subjects inside, despite the infusion of humor.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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