I rate Secret Harbor by Michael J Moore as 4 out of 4 stars. I really enjoyed the story and I found no typos. However, I think the story could have been developed just a little more in the beginning. Every chapter was short, which helps move the action along, but sometimes I would go back and reread a paragraph because I felt like I missed something. Some more details of the current scene and/or more fleshing out the background information would be beneficial instead of needing to read a few more chapters to finally glean that piece of information. Still, I would not hesitate to recommend this book.
The story begins with the main character, Tony, thinking about his girlfriend Karina. These two characters develop throughout the story into strong, vibrant personalities. Because the book is written in the first person point of view, the reader empathizes more with Tony. The other huge advantage of the first person POV is that the reader feels all Tony’s insecurities and wavering choices that lead him to the crazy situation he is in. It might be less believable without his emotions or understanding his thought process. There is some information that is unclear though. For example, I had the wrong impression that it was pretty much a greenhorn kid who was sent to the Island, yet by about Chapter Eighteen, I learned that Tony had been picked up by the police multiple times and been in and out of numerous institutions. The author may have intentionally chosen to do this, but it bothered me.
Near the end of the book, the reader along with Tony, begins to question his perception of certain events. This is no way detracts from the book, instead the stark realism is a refreshing mirror of reality. A perfect ending, or any perfect situation, would detract from the refreshing reality of the book.
It was really interesting for me to read this story as my role has been on the other side, as an adult in an alternative school where teen boys have been placed. I have been involved in many managements so I can completely imagine the positions that they may have put the boys in, that while safe, are not comfortable. However, we never pressed charges when a student assaulted us and I have the bite scars. From my interactions with those boys, after having built up trust and rapport, his thought process seems very similar to theirs. So often they travel down a dark road without any intent to do so but a combination of poor choices and bad luck rushes them along. This background allows me to completely believe the events of this story. Truth can be stranger than fiction. The climax of the book seems both totally plausible and a little unrealistic. I think without my background of the alternative school, the dorms the residential kids lived in, and the general attitude those boys had, I might not have found the story plausible. But I do believe it to be realistic, despite how I would like to believe it unrealistic.
I am happy to recommend this book to a wide variety of readers. It does show the rough, real side of many people, so if one is offended or upset by explicit description of sex, drugs, alcohol, homeless shelters, abuse, or violence, this is a book that should be avoided. Even though all these topics are described in the book I would still let young adults read it. Most readers too immature to handle the contents are also too immature to actually read the text. I would certainly have recommended it to my students at the alternative school I worked if I judged that it wouldn’t trigger them. I think it would be highly beneficial for them to read about a “real” protagonist from a background like theirs. I think it could benefit other young people to see how simple poor choices can lead to a whole domino effect and change their entire world. It is like a modern version of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. I have received no recompense for this review, but I am happy to share far and wide my recommendation of this book.