When starting a debut novel there is always the sense of the unknown, so when a reader discovers something truly excellent by a new-ish author it can feel like the discovery of a secret treasure trove that will enrich life for years to come. This is the experience that comes with reading She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper.
The “she” in She Rides Shotgun is eleven-year-old Polly McClusky and readers would be hard-pressed to find a character more deserving of being called fierce. Because she is eleven-years-old, she doesn’t even know how unique she is – but that only makes her more endearing to readers.
As the novel opens, Polly’s father, Nate, has discovered that his actions in prison have resulted in some very bad men putting out a hit on the people he holds most dear. He doesn’t reach his ex-wife in time, but Nate manages to ”kidnap” Polly from the school grounds before the evil can find her. Despite the fact that he is trying to save her, the police are now hunting him down as well.
What follows for the next 270+ pages is a road trip quite different than readers are used to. Not unlike Odysseus on his journey home, Polly’s travels are as much physical as they are mental and emotional. She Rides Shotgun is a coming-of-age story shrouded with noir attitude. It is gritty, yet tender; it is intense, yet chill; and it is damn good. Nate indoctrinates Polly to criminal ways, but as readers watch Polly learn each new skill, they realize these are the things that just might keep her alive when the shit hits the fan.
Jordan Harper writes in a sparse style, one that feels simplistic; yet is anything but. Each sentence – in fact, each word – seems carefully chosen and calculated to lull readers under a spell. There is a rhythm to these words that works magic. Setting the book aside feels like returning to a world that has been forever altered because of where you have been.
As far as debut novels go, one could hardly expect a better example of how to do it right; but frankly, that undervalues She Rides Shotgun. There are rarely books this exemplary even late in a writer’s career. Jordan Harper negotiates multiple viewpoints with ease – the chapters from Polly’s POV honestly feel as though they were written by a young girl, while the sections Nate narrates hum with edgy menace and loyal devotion. Several other memorable characters share in the storytelling, but it is these two characters who ultimately captivate readers.
Well, there is one other character that will latch onto your heart, never to let go – Polly’s teddy bear. Readers, you will not understand the emotions this stuffed toy elicits from deep within you, but you will own them when they inevitably appear. Keep the tissues handy!
Jordan Harper should be very proud and might as well start clearing his shelves now to make room for the awards that will rightfully be coming his way. She Rides Shotgun is a massive achievement – a book that will never be forgotten.
Disclaimer: A print copy of this title were provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.