Boise novelist follows teen’s move back to Idaho

“Worst Case” by Beck Anderson (Boise); Margot + Burke Press ($12)

Will she risk the fall and take a leap of faith?

Vivi Lewis just wants to stay in one place for more than a minute. It’s April of her senior year, for crying out loud, and here she is again, packed into a beat-up white Toyota with her anxiety-ridden single mom, fleeing the Washington coast. She hopes that this move — the one that’s taken them inland to Coeur d’Alene — will finally be their true fresh start.

There’s little to indicate this time will be much different from all the others — until Vivi meets Win Kemper at the city bus stop before her first day of school. Win and Vivi are a perfect match — both self-defined weirdos. Vivi trusts Win, and their time together is a whirlwind of cliff-jumping and paddleboarding, a life immersed in nature that would have given her, and especially her mom, a panic attack in the past. Their instant spark becomes a rock-solid friendship, and might be even more, if Vivi can stick around long enough to experience it.

But having a reason to stay also raises the stakes. Running from their fears has never made Vivi and her mom safe enough before, and now everything she has to lose appears in sharp relief. Can she find the strength to separate herself from her mother? Will the burgeoning bond she and Win share be enough to get them beyond the last 26 days of senior year — even when the worst-case scenario comes to pass?

“Return to Juniper” by Patrick Jameson (Boise); Outskirts Press ($26.95)

Kenny Young has been retired as an aerospace scientist for 10 years. Since then, he has been haunted by mysterious dreams that resemble scenes from a spacecraft, with characters some of whom Kenny has realized are aliens. Kenny suspects the aliens in his dreams are connected to the flying saucer he witnessed in his home town of Juniper as a boy, in 1956, and a young man in 1963, when slight, big-headed, cloudy-personas stared back at him beneath their hovering, saucer-like spacecraft. Kenny believes the mysterious images in his dreams stem from these two events that occurred decades ago. He and his wife, Linda, travel cross-country to the high desert town of Juniper in the northern Great Basin to find out.

In Juniper, longtime citizen Virl Saeger experiences the same thing as Young, although his nightmares began years ago, in the early 1960s. Saeger suspects his dreams are connected to the same 1956 alien spacecraft landing both he and Young witnessed. His quest to interpret his mysterious dreams parallels that of Young, only decades apart. The two men’s quests take the reader between the 1960s of Saeger’s time, to Young’s present-day Juniper. The dual-era aspect underlines the significant differences between the conditions and citizens of small town America in the 1950s and ‘60s versus life in the same small town today.

Significant in the story is a small group of Juniper residents with peculiar mental and physical traits that make them unique. Called “Amerans,” these people settled near Juniper in the 1870s, led by the Jame family, still ranching and raising cattle there all these years, and the Sol family. Young’s boyhood schoolmate, Dred Sol, now working for an international consulting service, meets Young in 2016 Juniper to help him solve the mysteries of his past and his dreams.

As Young and Saeger struggle to interpret their dreams, the story introduces several other key characters from both 2016 and 1963, whose trials and achievements bring the town of Juniper to life. Through these characters, the major themes of the story emerge: the top secret U.S. space program and its interstellar trade and espionage, which Young and Saeger discover to lie at the root of their dreams and flashbacks; the modern-day educational system, contrasted with the traditional system of the 1960s and prior; the dying free press, controlled in big cities across the country by a progressive political agenda; and the Juniper Banner’s attempt to preserve the ideals of past reporting standards; the impacts of methamphetamine abuse on law enforcement and citizens of small town America; and the struggle small towns endure when industry has deserted them.

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