A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker is a very highly
recommended coming-of-age story wrapped around a mystery set in a very
specific time and place. This is really a compelling, extraordinary,
In 1968 Laguna
Beach, California, is attracting members of the developing
counterculture - hippies, protests, sit-ins, drugs, and free love. Matt
Anthony is a broke sixteen-year-old who is just trying to survive. He
has a paper route that he needs to buy food. His mom is neglectful and
an addict. Drugs are readily available and she is becoming part of the
counterculture. His dad is gone and is only occasionally in contact. His
brother is over in Vietnam and will hopefully be returning home soon.
But Matt is mostly worried about his sister, Jasmine (Jazz). She has
just graduated from high school and hasn't returned home.
A girl they both knew has turned up dead on a beach, so Matt is
worried about his missing sister and sets out trying to find Jazz. When
there is still no sign of Jazz after 48 hours, Matt and his mom talk to
the police about it. They assume she is a runaway and are much more
concerned about the hippies and the drug problem over running the city.
Matt takes it upon himself to search for Jazz as his mother is too stoned to do it. He tirelessly searches for Jazz while making sure he does his paper route.
The social and cultural divisions between characters is clear. In the
pretense of helping Matt make money so he can eat, many of the adults
are using him for their own nefarious purposes. They knew he was
struggling and could have just gave him the money or bought him a meal.
Matt is a good kid. He is a sympathetic and thoughtful young man who
is raising himself, which is heartbreaking and tragic. While his mother
is off doing her own selfish thing, Matt is in a constant battle to
obtain food or money for food, while looking for his sister. During this
time, he has his first girlfriend, a girl he has had a crush on since
fourth grade. He is also a talented artist and does sketches of the
people he encounters. Matt is a memorable character involved in an
overwhelming situation, both facets work together to make A Thousand Steps an unforgettable novel.
It is mostly a coming-of-age story, but it is also a mystery and a
historical novel set in a very specific time and place. The time period
adds insight into the actions of the characters and the atmosphere in
Laguna Beach in 1968. This is when Timothy
Leary was encouraging people to, "Turn on, tune in, drop out,"
use LSD, smoke hash, use opium.
The writing is exceptional and I am surprised I have never read anything by T. Jefferson Parker before this. A Thousand Steps
is hard to put down once you start reading this intriguing and riveting
novel. The plot seems simple, a young man is searching for his sister,
but there are so many other parts to the story that give it depth and
interest. A Thousand Steps will certainly be one of the best novels of 2022.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Tor/Forge Books.