Described by John Lloyd of The Bookbag as “Catcher in the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Dyed Souls is a gritty coming-of-age literary novel, set in a residential treatment center in 1980’s California.
Charlie Lyle loves science, natural history, and the world of the mind, and it is his refuge and salvation as he copes with his drug-addicted mother and a world of circumstances well-beyond his grasp. More a work of philosophy than psychology, “For the teen it has a galling coming-of-age, redemption quest. For the adult it has that, as well as a literary look at a singular fictional life.”
Written with a respectful awareness of the subject matter and establishing well rounded and realistic characters, Dyed Souls was not quite what I was expecting it to be. A coming of age novel it is perhaps targeted at a young adult audience. Despite being rather over that age bracket myself though I thoroughly enjoyed this book too. I connected with the main character, Charlie, in a sympathetic manner. His emotions were raw and powerful. I felt an almost motherly instinct towards him. I especially liked that the story, his story, took a few chapters to really evolve. As a reader we are given nuggets of information to pull together in order to make some sense of Charlie’s world. The absence of an overload of background detail within the first few pages made both the plot and characters feel realistic. As a reader I appreciated that we weren’t handed every important piece of information on a plate before the story got going, but we picked up the pertinent details along the way. We grow in understanding as Charlie moves through the tribulations that he faces and I liked the parallels between the reader and character in that respect.
Set in the 1980s we find Charlie, a well-read and thoughtful but troubled teenager, residing in Hawthorne Residential Treatment Village. He has a difficult relationship with his mother and has been taken abruptly from his grandparents, the only adults he seems to have had a stable relationship with, without understanding why. The story unfolds to explore the damage family relationships or perhaps rather the lack of them and family secrets can have on a child. Charlie is just one of many teenagers experiencing difficulties that should face no child but sadly do across the globe. At one point he refers to the treatment center as “The Children’s Home for the Survival of the Unfit” but of course whilst the weight of the world may rest uneasily on these young people’s shoulders, the responsibility for resolving their troubles should not. Charlie falls in love at Hawthorne but, having his heart broken, he is desperate to reconcile with his grandparents. Written in the first person narrative we are swept up in his journey not only in finding the people he trusts, but in his search for himself. When he does find the depths of himself he is also propelled into his own adulthood in one strong jolt.
The characterisation in this novel is superb. Not only is it realistic but each individual has their place in the story, none are shoved in to satisfy an otherwise difficult subplot. Each one emerges from the pages as a truly believable person. The depth of feeling and thought in Charlie in particular is very moving.
“I wonder if you can kill someone by forgetting to think about them?”
he ponders at one stage. In another instance he remembers a conversation that he had with his grandfather about God. Very rarely are we presented with a carefree teenager, instead he thinks heavily but without the experience and understanding that age brings about.
Dyed Souls is one of those novels that will stay with me, the story being turned over in my mind and pondered over long after the last lines have been read. It is intense but thoughtful, and I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of mindful literature that twists and turns and leaves you wanting more.
About the author:
Gary Santorella, Owner, Interactive Consulting is a Lean implementation, organizational development, conflict resolution, and team-building specialist. He has a BA in Behavioural Psychology from Providence College, Providence, RI (1980), a Master’s Degree in Occupational Social Welfare from UC Berkeley (1990), and is a licensed cognitive-behavioural therapist in the State of California. His book: Lean Culture for the Construction Industry: Building Responsible & Committed Project Teams 2nd Edition was published by Productivity Press (a division of Taylor & Francis) in 2017. His first novel, Dyed Souls, was published by Matador Publishing in 2018.
Dyed Souls has won two awards:
Silver in the 2018 Global eBook Awards – Young Adult Fiction Category
Chill With a Book Readers Award.
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N.B. I was gifted a copy of Dyed Souls for this review as part of the book review blog tour. For more information please see my disclosure page.