It's a typical scene along California's coast: the parked car full of wet suits and wax, boards on top, a guy leaning over the steering wheel to scope the waves. The Beach Boys immortalized surfing in their songs, and now Ray Maloney shares an even closer look with "The Impact Zone," winner of the third annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding First Young Adult Novel.
You'll like Jim Nichols, the 15-year-old narrator who lives in Ventura with his mom and stepdad, Larry. As with most kids his age, Jim is full of dreams and conflicts. He fantasizes about sex and wishes he wasn't so tongue-tied around girls. He wishes he could spend more time with his father, a famous surfing photographer with a gypsy life style. He wishes Larry wasn't such a stuffed shirt.
After a humiliating injustice, Jim runs away on his bike, south along Pacific Coast Highway toward L.A. International Airport, where he plans to catch the first plane to Hawaii. He's deterred by a major landslide in Malibu and then in Honolulu by a child prostitute. When he realizes that "nothing works like it does in the movies" and how easily plans can fall apart, it's a cold surprise. Lost innocence is bittersweet but exciting against the backdrop of the Banzai Pipeline. The author reveals some of his best writing as he describes the ocean, its power and beauty. Anyone who's surfed knows the thrill of riding a wave so steep that it's "just like stepping into an empty elevator shaft." Pray you'll never wipe out on a reef where it's like smashing "into a brick wall covered with broken glass. . . . " That's no jive.