Virgin TerritoryBy James LecesneEgmont USA$16.99
Virgin Territory is a beautifully designed book –on all levels. The characters, metaphors and prose are beautifully designed. The setting – Jupiter, FL – is eloquently captured, which makes for an engrossing, vivid, moving coming of age tale that will have you laughing as well as shedding the occasional tear. This is definitely fiction aimed at youthful readers, but the themes are so universal that it’s worth reading at any age.
The writer draws us into small town Floridian life, and perhaps more importantly into the ennui of a teenage summer, which we can all recall.
“I’m walking along the sidewalk, wondering if the concrete was poured right there, or if the slabs were brought into the neighborhood ready-made and then pieced together like a puzzle. Either way, it seems as though someone has gone through an awful lot of trouble to create a sidewalk in a place where there isn’t that much foot traffic.”
Oh, and yes, the book’s design is also beautiful. It shows a young man with a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his lower right arm, wearing a green tee shirt, and a pair of all-American Levi’s. Honestly, one of the most beautiful covers I have seen in a long time. It suggests
teenage angst, sexuality, trepidation and beauty. That the book was written by James Lecesne, who wrote and won an Academy Award for the short film Trevor, which became the basis for The Trevor Project should inform you that his study of teenage life is a flawless journey.
Dylan Flack is a character we can all identify with. He is fifteen, carries a condom with him, hoping that summer will be the first time he gets to use it. Dylan has “no plan” which his father Doug, a widowed landscape artist, hopes will change over that brief utopia known as summer vacation.
He also spends time with his father chasing his grandmother, an Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home who frequently slips away from what he and his father call “the place.” Grandmother Marie claims she never leaves on her own. Her friend, Frankie Rey is surely a delusion. She claims he is a grave robber, a dashing South American who maybe she knew when she was a glamorous showgirl in her youth. Yet, Dylan lets Frankie live on in Marie’s occasionally lucid thoughts. Marie, at one point, escapes from the place and they find her at the golf course looking at the Virgin’s image. She does not see the saint, but instead sees Dylan’s late mother.
In terms of a job, Dylan has one of those, as a golf caddy at a sort of middle-of-the road golf course. He spends a rather unremarkable summer carrying the bags of retired men who play golf. Jupiter, which for Dylan does not hold the intrigue of his native New York City, seems to be metaphorically compared to the now demoted Pluto, a town of sidewalks and no pedestrians.
On the plastic, artificial golf course something does happen that is surely the antithesis of “fake.” On the bark of a tree, the Virgin Mary makes an appearance. The golf course becomes so overwhelmed with pilgrims that the masters of the green decide to close the course at least until the crowds die down.
Dylan, through this supposed sighting of the Virgin, finds himself in the friendship of a Latina girl from Arizona named Angela, a cool black chick from Atlanta named Desiree, and a boy known as Crispy. Dylan is the quintessential loner, perhaps brought about by his mother’s death the night before September 11.. Prior to meeting them only has one friend who is gone for the summer, to Switzerland of all places, itself the complete cool, Alpine opposite to flat, humid summer Florida.
The three kids are in Jupiter because their mothers are Virgin Mary groupies, who follow her supposed sightings. The kids have a sort of club, in which membership is simple – no, it does not entail any bizarre sexual games you read about in tabloids involving misguided youth. You simply have to take a risk in your life. To Dylan this means “getting with Angela,” initially but that does not work although he does eventually get something out if his membership to the club.
What he does end up with is a friend. Even though Crispy leaves Jupiter with his mother towards the end of the book he is no longer alone. At the end of the book, which coincides with Marie’s death who should appear? Frankie Rey, but his father doesn’t see him, and one of the nurses at “the place” says that she heard so much about him from his late grandmother that she believes he lives inside of her as surely as she lived inside of Marie. In the end Dylan also learns that – much like the Virgin Mary, the spiritual anchor of this book, and his mother – it is not what you see, or believe, or whom you have lost, because they will always live inside you.
A stunning book, as artfully designed as the cover.