REVIEW 'Hawkes Harbor' proves to be a letdown for S.E. Hinton fans

The familiar writing style should be a comfort to readers.
"Hawkes Harbor." By S.E. Hinton. Tor Books. 251 Pages. $21.95.
S.E. Hinton's novels, including "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish," gingerly straddle a line between innocence and raw worldliness, making them relevant to adults as well as to children.
With "Hawkes Harbor," her first novel in nearly 15 years, Hinton again tries to walk that tightrope, but comes up short as the more childish aspects of the novel overshadow its maturity. Still, her familiar writing style and ability to dissect characters from the inside out are comforting to readers who grew up with her books.
The first half of "Hawkes Harbor" is compelling as it begins the tale of Jamie Sommers, 25, who is in a mental hospital after experiencing an unspoken horror. It appears this will be a coming-of-age story. True to her style, Hinton reveals information about Jamie through plotting, thoughtful details, and observations by supporting characters.
"He was improving now. He slept on his bed, not under it. He startled far too easily, but jumped, no longer screamed. Still suffered from night terrors."
Much of this section is set up as interviews with Jamie's physician, Dr. McDevitt, and flashbacks triggered by these sessions. Hinton uses the flashbacks to demonstrate how Jamie changes after moving to Hawkes Harbor, a small town in Delaware, at the suggestion of his partner-in-crime, Kellen, who has since mysteriously disappeared.
Hinton gives meaty glimpses of Jamie as a strapping seaman traipsing around the world, finding trouble and barely escaping it.
"He was only 5-foot-7, but he had the muscled shoulders, the slim waist and hips of a swimmer. His hair was a gleaming mane of six different shades of gold, his eyes clear and direct. The women who could resist his slow hot smile fell for his boyish grin."
Here the novel is suspenseful, engaging and promising. Hinton so clearly establishes how pitiful and emasculated Jamie has become since he met the source of his troubles, "It."
As his visits with McDevitt become more probing, the reader learns the source of Jamie's tremors and nightmares, and what "It" is, and cracks start appearing in the novel.
Scare tactics
Hinton uses tired scare tactics and boring supernatural themes to explain the changes in Jamie, and the rest of the book forces the reader to suspend too much disbelief as the convoluted plot becomes a horror story and, later, a sappy tale of forgiveness.
"And even the part he missed most -- being on a ship, headed for a strange port -- maybe even that would be too much for him how. It was always the voyage he had loved, never the destination."
Had Hinton stayed on task and continued to tell Jamie's story simply, she would have written a more compelling novel. However, "Hawkes Harbor" ends up a nebulous work, an attempt to cover too many genres.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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