I live on the Central Coast of California, where it’s borderline heresy to be anything less than a huge fan of beloved local author Laurie King. True confession time: I admit it, I tried a couple of her books and they just didn’t grab me. But seeing that her latest book, Lockdown, was subtitled “A Novel of Suspense,” and that it was set in a middle school in a small rural town on the central coast (that sounded eerily like the one where my husband worked for many years) made me LEAP at the opportunity to read an advance copy! (Thanks to NetGalley and Random House – Ballantine.)
The setting is Guadalupe Middle School, where Principal Linda McDonald (who has been in charge for the past year) has been working tirelessly to change the culture from that of a gang-ridden, crime infested school to…something else. The story takes place on a single day, with flashback chapters interspersed to present the backstories for some of the characters (including Linda and her husband Gordon, who routinely helps out and supports his wife in her professional endeavor). Another main character is local cop Olivia, who intuits that Gordon has a mystery that might be revealed if she were to use her law enforcement resources to do some sleuthing.
As Linda gets to school, it is the morning of her long-awaited undertaking: Career Day, when she hopes to present students with ideas and options that might inspire them to escape their environment. “They gym would be packed to the rafters with seven hundred-plus adolescents, on the brink of boiling over, into impatience, mockery, even the violence that was never far away.” The students are “ages eleven to fourteen. Half child, half adult, all hormones and passion…” One of the invited speakers, Thomas Atcheson, who plans to speak about the tech industry, has a different perspective: “”Career Day.” What an exercise in futility! Urging ill-trained children to become entrepreneurs was like telling finger-painters to aim for the Sistine Chapel: those with drive required no encouragement.”
Other important characters include the Coach and several students: the basketball star, the cousin of the gang member on trial for murdering a beautiful young girl, and the victim’s sister. Then there is the janitor, an immigrant who has a secret and takes a huge interest in the community.
Told from alternating perspectives, the story of Guadalupe’s Career Day its effect on several people’s lives, is filled with tension, mystery and outstanding character development. I love the way Ms. King presented the school in a way that anyone who has worked with students in middle or high school will recognize: ”…even the oldest, most sneering of these adolescents harbored secret pockets of hope, a hidden belief that the world might still hold out an outstretched hand in place of a fist.”
Impossible to say more without spoiling, which I NEVER do! It’s well written, and a relatively quick read with memorable characters. Five stars.