Thursday, May 3, 2012

book review: Cross Currents by John Shors

The backstory: Cross Currents was on the shortlist for the Indie Lit Award for Fiction this year.

The basics: Leading up to the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami on the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi, Cross Currents explores the island through its inhabitants, a three-generation family with two children who run an island hotel, and tourists, young American traveler Patch, who is soon joined by his brother, Ryan, and Ryan's girlfriend, Brooke.

My thoughts: The novel opens with an author's note about the tsunami and how it inspired him to write about this island he had visited and loved before. He wanted the world to understand this island before its devastation. What I found surprising given the author's note at the beginning was at what point in the novel the tsunami occurred: not until the novel's final pages. The author's note impacted my expectations of how this story would be told, and ultimately it left me disappointed and wishing Shors saved his author's note for the end.

I expected a glimpse at life on the island before, during and after the tsunami, and instead Shors focused on the life before and concluded with the storm's immediate aftermath. Knowing it was coming made the issues the characters faced seem mostly trivial to me, and I wish Shors would have let the reader share the journey of the characters. As a reader, I couldn't forget what was coming, and I was eager to see how life would be after the tsunami. An event of that magnitude changes everything, but here it served as an ending rather than a beginning. Knowing all along made me look at the characters and situation differently, and it's one reason I was most interested in what happened after things returned to 'normal', or a new normal. Reading about seemingly petty issues left me struggling to connect with the characters too. I think the aftermath was equally as fascinating as the lead up, and I wished there were more of it.

I did appreciate the setting of this novel. It was nice to explore the island from the viewpoint of both natives and visitors:
"So much of the island was devoted to tourists. Foreigners stayed on the nicest stretches of sand, scuba dived above untouched reefs, and enjoyed the best of everything. Most of the locals lived far from the beaches and worked all hours of the day."
The character I most enjoyed was Patch. Overall, I found the female characters to be particularly poorly developed, which bothered me. Simply shifting their narrative out of first person may have fixed it. This story felt like Patch's story.

Despite my issues with its scope and pacing, I did enjoy reading this book. I was eager to see what happened, and I read through it quickly.

The verdict: While I appreciated the setting and idea of this novel, none of the characters seemed believable to me. I never felt transported by the story; instead, I saw the effort behind it. I loved the idea of this novel, but unfortunately, I didn't love this novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 336 paged
Publication date: September 6, 2011
Source: author

Want to read it for yourself? Buy Cross Currents from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Now tell me: which other Shors titles should I explore?

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  1. This one has been in my TBR pile for too many months. I just haven't gotten to it, but it might have to wait a bit more. Sorry it wasn't perfect.

    1. It was in my TBR for months too! I was so excited to finally have an excuse to read it, but it just fell flat for me. It was still a nice, fast, intriguing read.

  2. I am sorry that you didn't love this one, but your review was important to me because it helped me manage my expectations. I will be reading this book soon, and knowing that the tsunami is not a focal point is indeed important to me. Great and honest review today!

    1. Thanks, Zibilee! I expected it to be about the tsunami before I started it, but after the author's note, I was even more surprised at the pacing. I'll look forward to your thoughts on this one.

  3. Lots of reviewers had the same thing to say about this book. That so much was spent leading up to it, that they couldn't wait to hear about the recovery... and that that just wasn't included. I'd want to hear about the recovery too.

    1. It really felt incomplete to me. I could tell an abrupt ending was coming by the sheer number of pages, but I was still surprised. It's a wonderful premise for a novel.

  4. I visited Thailand a couple of years ago and was looking for a novel set there - I will have to keep this one in mind even though it sounds like the character development and pacing could have been better.

    1. Colleen, for a glimpse at Thailand, this book was good. I think you'd enjoy it!


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