I read Berkhout’s debut novel last year and after a missed opportunity of seeing her in person, the publisher was kind enough to send a copy of her latest my way!
The Mosaic by Nina Berkhout
Genre: YA Fiction
Source: cover image and blurb from Goodreads
Twyla Jane Lee has one goal. To finish senior year so she can get out of her military hometown of Halo, Montana. But to graduate, she needs to complete forty hours of community service, and that means helping out a rude and reclusive former Marine named Gabriel Finch.
A young veteran of the conflicts in the Middle East, Gabriel spends his days holed up in a decommissioned nuclear missile silo on his family farm. Twyla assumes he’s just another doomsday prepper, readying his underground shelter for Armageddon. But soon she finds out the truth, and it takes her breath away.
Gradually the two misfits form a bond, and Twyla begins to unearth the secrets that have left the Marine battling ghosts. Her discoveries force her to question her views on the wars until she realizes that even if she gets out of Halo, she won’t ever be able to leave Gabriel Finch’s story behind her.
A beautifully written and thought-provoking novel about a teen facing the collision of love, ideals and uncertainty about her own future.
Berkhout’s adult debut, The Gallery of Lost Species, was one of my favourite reads last year, partly because of how suited to my life it felt (read about it in my review!) so I was interested in where she’d go with the young adult genre.
It’s an interesting premise; the MC, a pacifist living in a military town, is paired up with a veteran to complete her volunteer hours in order to graduate high school. Beyond focusing on this coming-of-age/growing up and getting out aspect, it’s also an exploration of PTSD, the treatment of veterans, and the ambiguity of who the ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ are.
Unfortunately, it didn’t feel like the author explored these areas as fully as she could have. We got more than a surface portrayal as she started to delve into how war permeates society, but it seemed a bit like she was holding back — her points really could’ve been pushed further to make an impressive argument.
It was often more like showing than telling, even with Twyla’s “pacifist” status. Besides a couple statements she made early on, there wasn’t really evidence of her attitudes about war in the way she behaved throughout, despite the fact that this was supposedly so central to her character.
The romance parts were iffy as well, but I’m glad it wasn’t really trying to be a romance novel. I’ve mentioned multiple times that I’m not a fan of underage relationships (as it’s illegal!) so one major red flag was the age difference of the two leads. Technically, they don’t get together until the MC is 18 but as I’ve said before, an 18-year-old is still not ready for an adult relationship! There were other relationships in the book as well but it didn’t feel like these were really fleshed out well, again more showing than telling.
It feels like I have more cons than pros in this review but there are many strong moments that pop up throughout the book and these really make an impact on the read. I noticed some similar inconsistencies in Berkhout’s first book but when she finds her voice, it’s some impressive writing.
The ending especially, when the MC is several years older so perhaps Berkhout permits her a more mature voice, was so powerful that I almost left the book with a completely different experience than I’d had through reading it.
About the Author: Nina Berkhout’s debut adult novel, The Gallery of Lost Species (Anasi, Thomas Dunne/St Martin’s, Éditions XYZ) was acclaimed by the Toronto Star (“Berkhout does a masterful job”) and the Globe and Mail (“deeply moving”). The novel was named an Indigo and Kobo Best Book and a Harper’s Bazaar Hottest Breakout Novel. Berkhout is also the author of five poetry collections, most recently Elseworlds, which won the Archibald Lampman Award. (bio from publisher’s website)
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.