Friday, June 7, 2019

"Well Below Heaven" by Idyllwild Eliot

Well Below Heaven
by Idyllwild Eliot

Well Below Heaven by Idyllwild Eliot

Well Below Heaven is the debut novel by Idyllwild Eliot. The author stops by today to share an excerpt from the book. You can also read my review.

Coming-of-age drama meets a Jack Reacher thriller in this daring YA epistolary debut.
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.

November 27
Dear Kelly,
I asked Dad if we were going to go visit, since you’re going to miss Christmas, and so we could see the mountains and ride horses and maybe hike, even if it’s snowing. It looks cool in the pictures, and Mom said it was pretty. The forests at least, where they haven’t burned. But Dad said,
—It’s rugged up there, Sammy. You might not survive.
I’d survive though. Easy. Even with the bears. They’re probably all sleeping now anyway, particularly up in the skinny part, but if you see one, like in a cave or something, tell me.
The river’s way high here, up to the levees in some places. No snow yet, just rain. It’s rained like everyday since Thanksgiving, which was no big deal. I folded the napkins wrong and put the glasses on the wrong side, but Mom and Dad weren’t loud since it was a holiday and only me. And dinner was the same. Except Mom didn’t make the sweet potatoes and she charred the turkey so the house stunk and the cranberries came out of a can. Everything was pretty bad actually. You didn’t miss anything.
You’re in the snow, anyway. You can go out and throw snowballs and stomp around through the trees if you want. I can’t. I’m in my room. Grounded. For nothing, too. All I did was come home late and not call. I would’ve called, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have my phone, and I got home as fast as I could. It was raining and I was wet and it was starting to get cold, because it’s a lot colder when your clothes are wet. So I ran. I got home and right off Mom grounded me. Just for being late. Not for accidentally slicing a kid or for breaking anything even. If I’d broken something then maybe, but not for just being late.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“Idyllwild Eliot’s Well Below Heaven is a dark novel of sibling loyalty ... rich with the joys and miseries of teenage life ... that will warrant comparisons to the work of Laurie Halse Anderson or Walter Dean Myers, relating stories of adolescent challenges without condescending or moralizing.” ~ Foreword Reviews
“Idyllwild Eliot’s edgy, epistolary YA novel takes readers on an absorbing emotional roller coaster ... language and content that includes references to sex, child/teen pornography (which figures large in the plot), abortion and drugs make the novel best suited for older teens. This content, however, never feels prurient or gratuitous, and Eliot’s skillful writing and deft characterization create a story adults may savor as well. Readers will surely find themselves thinking about Well Below Heaven long after turning the last page.” ~ BlueInk Review
“... leading to a series of shocking incidents ... That these events don’t feel gratuitous is due to Eliot’s skill in building up to them and to the achingly realistic voices revealed through Kelly’s and Sammy’s letters, reflecting the teens’ angst, anger, betrayals, triumphs, new insights, and the subtle changes that take place with the passage of time and their life experiences.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
“Idyllwild Eliot presents this as her debut novel, which gives her credit as a creative author who views adolescent years differently, maybe more accurately than others. This novel is refreshing as it hits problems some teenagers face though seldom written about.” ~ JoJo Maxson
“Bravo, Ms. Eliot! Your debut novel is intensely felt and the characters' insights wonderfully documented. Definitely inspired a second reading.” ~ Camile Fontaine

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.

By Lynda Dickson
Brother and sister Sammy and Kelly are separated when Kelly is sent away to a boarding school for troubled youth. From afar, will Kelly be able to prevent her younger brother from making the same mistakes she made?
The story is told by Sammy and Kelly via the letters and emails they send each other during their separation. From their correspondence, we need to piece together what happened. Because of this format, we sometimes feel a bit removed from the action. However, the short chapters (i.e., letters) keep us reading, and the tension ramps up and the suspense increases when one of the siblings doesn’t reply for a while. I love the relationship between Kelly and Sammy. They really care for each other and look out for each other, keeping secrets from their parents, as most kids do. I don’t know when the book is meant to be set, but it appears to be in the early 2000s. There are references to old television shows, watching television when shows are airing (not recorded or streamed), digital cameras but not smartphones with cameras, mobile phones but no texting, and Internet but no social media.
This book provides a confronting look at the secret lives of teenagers, which may be closer to reality than we would like to think.
Warnings: coarse language, drug use, underage drinking, sexual references, pedophilia, violence.

About the Author
Idyllwild Eliot
Idyllwild Eliot was born and raised in the Midwest. Her survival of adolescence was never a guarantee and, as a result, she developed a desire to understand people and how their environments can impact their actions. That desire took her on the road, through Texas and Arizona and California, through a number of jobs as well. Nothing stuck. After a couple of international stints, she bought herself a new laptop and started writing. Well Below Heaven is her debut novel. 


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