Imagine you are poor in the richest country in the world. Imagine that you live in the run-down end of Brooklyn NY. Imagine that you are never going to leave. And in these few streets and this little strip of water from where you can see Statton Island, New Jersey, Manhatten, there are people whose lives have been hit by tragedy. The girl who comes back from the dead after taking an inflatable out for a moonlight adventure with her friend who does not come back; The boy whose father was shot dead when he was very young and his mother, haunted by the ghost of her husband. Then there are the little people, the people who are always hoping that business will improve, even though the reader knows that this will never happen; the down and outs, the drinkers, the parents who want more than this for their kids even though the readers knows this will never happen either.
A brilliant telling of poverty and what it does to a soul. Val, the girl who didn't drown; Cree, the black kid whose father was shot, Ren, a secretive older teen who seems set on looking out for Cree - these are the major characters here although everyone else is worth listening to.
But there is a righter of wrongs, here. Someone who can put a few things right. And because of what he does, things will change for some of those characters in the book.
Told in the present tense (She listens, he walks etc) but please don't be put off if this is not a style you normally like. Another reviewer asks why this book is not better known, and I wish I knew, it is a compelling story and deserves a greater readership.
I was enjoying this book so much that I refused to start cooking Christmas dinner until I had finished it!
On a hot summer evening Val and June set off for a trip in a tiny raft (we would call it a rubber dinghy). Only Val returns and the disappearance of June sends ripples through the whole community of Red Hook. Visitation Street is filled with some brilliantly drawn characters. There is Jonathan, a would-be musician now reduced to playing in a bar and teaching music to children with no interest in the subject. Cree is a young black kid whose father Marcus was shot a decade ago who has dreams of sailing away from Red Hook. His mother refuses to accept her husband’s death and is convinced he is talking to her from the grave. Renton is a talented graffiti artist who has his own secret past. Desmond is Marcus’s druggie brother who always needs money from anyone passing by.
My favourite character was Fadi. He runs a Lebanese convenience store which acts as an information hub for the area. He also issues a community newsletter which doesn’t always get the responses hoped for. He is a really interesting character and (note to author) deserves his own book.
I could have done without the metaphysical aspects of the story – the voices from the dead were a bit unnecessary. But Ivy Pochoda writes really well and creates a brilliant picture of life in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. Her work has echoes of Dennis Lehane and David Simon – exalted company, indeed.
'Summer is everybody else's party. It belongs to the recently arrived hipsters in their beat-up sneakers and paint-splattered jeans spilling out of the bar down the block. It belongs to Puerto Rican families with foil trays of meat, sending charcoal smoke signals into the air, even to the old men in from of the VFW, sitting out watching the neighbourhood pass them by. Val and June lie on Val's bed on the second floor of her parents' house on Visitation. The girls are waiting for the night to make shape, watching the facing row of neat three-story brick houses. Although June has the phone number of twenty boys in her cell, ten she'd willingly kiss and ten she swears are dying to kiss her, the girls are alone.'
The opening is like a movie tracking shot - first the sense of the terrain and then the zooming in on the protagonists. It's a hot summer night and Val and June decide to push a raft out into the water. It doesn't end well. The opening lines from Ivy Pochoda's atmospheric novel gives you a real taste of the quality of the writing in this novel. Pochodo is excellent at evoking time and place and the Red Hook area of Brooklyn is clearly one of the characters in her first thriller, along with Val and June, Cree who sees them set out on their journey and who becomes a suspect, Jonathan who finds Val but not June and Fadi, the bodega owner, who becomes part of the local news story. Ms Pochoda comes strongly recommended by Denis Lehane, whose praise on the cover refers to 'mystery, poetry and pain. And they are there is to be found tin this novel, which has some very good qualities but doesn't quite pull off its ambitious premise. I think it's a structural problem because the characters are very memorable - especially Cree, for whom we dare to hope and Jonathan whose fall from early grace is masterfully described. For me, it would have been better without the magical realism, 'Lovely Bones' type strand. It's a powerful tale of the impact of tragedy on survivors.'where echo meets shadow'
Visitation Street is billed as a book about teenagers June and Val, who take a pink inflatable raft out into the bay from Red Hook, a deprived Brooklyn neighbourhood, one humid summer evening. Val washes ashore later that night; June's body cannot be found. Nevertheless, despite the weight of this tragedy, the novel is more about Red Hook itself, following a group of characters through its streets, bodegas, projects and ruins. Ivy Pochoda lived in the neighbourhood for several years herself, and while I'm in no position to judge, this novel feels authentic, down to the details of what the better-off white girls from the local Catholic school drink at parties ('red and blue Solo cups half filled with brown and pink drinks and the pummelled skins of lemons and limes') to the look of a black teenager's decrepit bedroom in the Houses, the local housing project ('the water map on the ceiling, the brown and yellow bubbles tracing the pathways of his upstairs neighbour's leaky plumbing').
Inevitably, in this ensemble cast, some stories are more engaging than others; I was gripped by Val's difficulty in coming to terms with what has happened to June, and the way that June also haunts the slightly older Monique, who has felt guilty ever since she refused to let the girls hang out with her on the night of June's death. In contrast, Fadi, a Lebanese bodega owner who runs an unofficial neighbourhood newspaper, feels like more of a plot device to draw the various threads together, and I found it difficult to warm to Jonathan, a music teacher who spends most nights drinking in the bar under his flat, and who becomes unhealthily fascinated by Val.
It is Cree, however, the occupant of the water-damaged bedroom in the Houses, who stood out for me; in many ways this novel is really about his struggle to come to terms with his father's random shooting some years ago, and the way that his mother has struggled to cope ever since. Cree finds his own abandoned hideouts throughout the neighbourhood, spending time with his father's old boat, but also claiming 'a sliver of garden wedged between two tenements, a bird's-eye lookout over the water from a towering warehouse' and 'a secret lair in an abandoned longshoreman's bar', where he 'cleared the trash from the empty bar, sanded the splintering wooden mermaid figurehead, and pretended he was visiting Bermuda.' There's a minor thread about gentrification, and the appropriation of neighbourhood culture, here. When Cree turns up at his bar one day to find a couple sanding and polishing to reopen it as a business: 'He wonders if this couple knows how the late-afternoon light plummets in narrow columns through two holes in the roof of the porch out back, how the wooden figurehead casts a scary shadow if you sneak up on her the wrong way.' Similarly, the New York Post uses a picture of a Red Hook teenager jumping from a pier into the bay, without any attribution; the boy reclaims his leap by graffiting it across a tunnel. When illuminated by the lights of a passing bus, 'it's a flipbook, a perfect moving image, taking the jumper higher off the ground.'
This sort of social commentary, however, is ultimately subsumed by Cree's increasing awareness of the weight of the past, the sense that owning one's own history can be too much of a weight to bear. After losing his hideout in the longshoreman's bar, he thinks that the whole of Red Hook is a series of layers: 'A neighbourhood of ghosts. It's not such a bad place.' Later, however, Cree's mysterious friend, Ren, tells him that he has to get away: 'Stay here long enough, you'll become one of them - another ghost haunting the Hook.' Cree's arc, therefore, has a complicated relationship to the past; he both needs to reclaim it and move on from it if he's to live his life. This talk of ghosts becomes more dominant in the last section of Visitation Street, which takes on a more mystical feel as Cree's grandmother and aunt, with their firm beliefs in a spirit world, take a larger role in the narrative. This, for me, felt like a bit of a cop-out, an easy way out for a book that is otherwise so sharply observant and atmospheric. Nevertheless, Visitation Street is far more than just another book about a missing girl.
I got a free copy of this to review and the cover seems different from the pic on Amazon,so maybe my review won't make sense to everyone,but my cover blew me away.The first page is written on the cover,so as soon as you see the book you are drawn into the story.The next page is inside the front cover,and the book goes on from there.The map that accompanies the book is at the back(wish I'd found that sooner)and all the ptinting info is there too.
I'm not sure how universal this cover is,as no other reviewers seem to have mentioned it,but I think it is a stoke of genius,as I may well not have realised how great the story was had I not first been enticed by the cover.The writing is so evocative,I really felt I was there at Red Hook in that sweltering summer.As soon as I started reading this,I was telling everyone about the unusual layout of the book,and I've been recommending it to all my friends.
I've taken off one star,not because the writing was not good,but because I personally got so involved in the pain of the missing girl's family and friends that I can't really say I loved it.There are parts that are so bleak I would not want to read it again,but it is a tribute to the author that she makes it all seem so real.,which I'm sure a lot of it is.
It reminds me a bit of a Dickens novel,where we get to know all the characters so well that we worry about what's going to happen to them,even though we have finished the book and put it away.There's that same sense of people struggling to make a living,the same sense of humanity,the same details of everyday life being recorded by the author.
I'm still thinking about it now,and I suspect I will be for a long time.
An absorbing and gritty story set in a mixed neighbourhood by the Hudson river in New York, 'Visitation Street' opens with two bored teenagers who embark on a doomed adventure one hot summer evening. The repercussions of the incident have an impact on the lives of several residents over the course of the next few months, and this is the essence of the story. The writing is vivid and realistic, minutely observed. The characters are interesting and many of them likeable. It's not the fastest paced of stories, and it isn't really comfortable reading - I would describe it as dark so much as unhappy - but the quality of the writing is good.
As with many novels that follow a group of disparate characters, I was more interested in some plot threads than others. I found I identified more with the black family from the 'projects' than the failed music teacher and his teenaged pupil. There is a strong supernatural thread which I didn't really like and felt the story could have done without. The plotline around the mysterious newcomer to the area, a talented graffiti artist, is a much more intriguing story and it was this that kept me reading. I felt that a lot more could have been made of the young girl's struggle to cope with the aftermath of the accident, and I didn't like the direction that plot line took.
I found the depiction of the divisions on racial grounds within an American city, even between communities living at different ends of the same street, to be very interesting and disturbing. The gulf between the black families in the housing estate and the wealthier white families in the houses by the river, and the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean business owners in between, was never clearer than in the reactions of the police to the disappearance of a white girl. I felt this novel did scratch the surface of America's complicated race relations, giving a glimpse of the divisions that still exist.
This is a well written literary novel with good descriptions and a gritty undertone. It's not light or pleasurable reading and is probably too gloomy to enjoy on a holiday or if you're feeling down. I found it rather unsettling and the grey cover quite nicely sums up how I felt about the whole book - it has a grey atmosphere - not out and out black, but there's not enough glimmers of hope to make it a happy or even neutral story. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and it's undeniably well done, it just depends what you're looking for. Read it in the right mood and you'll enjoy it more.
The author can write.
Her description and narrative passages are superb and she has a style that is well developed and she writes with confidence.
The style and characterisation are first rate. However, despite it being well written and the characters being well developed I found it a slow read.
The 'plot' was a little too prolonged for me.
I really struggled with this. 'Visitation Street' by Ivy Pochoda intrigued me when I read the synopsis, sounded like something that would captivate me, and compel me to read it straight through to the end. Unfortunately, I found it really hard work. I liked the premise - the impact of the death of a young girl on the community, and the effect on the lives of the residents was portrayed really well. The aftermath of grief and guilt pours from the pages, but I just found everything to be so slow-moving that I found myself losing interest. The depiction of the neighbourhood, the characters and their lives is beautifully done, the tragedy and the repercussions are real, but the whole thing just moves so slowly! I just wanted more, and didn't find it. This is a really good story, well told, with good characterisation, but for me, a little too wordy perhaps. 4 stars because I am very sure that this book will appeal to many readers - it IS good - just not for me, I think.
on 26 December 2015
A dense, multi-faceted book that is more of a slow burn than a pacy thrill. Dancing around the 'Great American Novel' genre Pochoda produces some great writing, occasionally dazzling, but this book is really more of an 'experience' than an affecting tale. Nothing wrong with that but it needs sustained literary genius to pull off atmosphere over content and unfortunately this book too often falls short in that department. The picture painted of Brooklyn and the character's in the area is an intriguing and sometimes compelling one but I unfortunately couldn't shake off the feeling I get with so many literary novels of this type that are under-edited these days- one of style over substance. Shame, this book could have delivered so much more, but if you are in the mood for an immersive literary stroll, this may be worth a try.
on 3 August 2013
This wonderful book is set in Brooklyn, in the district of Red Hook that fronts the East River. It is a mixed zone - the poorer Housing Projects, the better off streets including the one checked in the title, and derelict wastelands like Bones Manor, home to the marginalised. Despite divisions of race, class and religion, it has survived the worst of the drug wars. A community exists. Ivy Pochoda has a real feel for the rhymes and rhythms of Red Hook, right down to the graffiti on its warehouses.
In the heat of summer two teenage girls, Val and June, take a frail pink raft onto the waters of the river for an adventure, their young silhouettes caught by the light of the moon. The voyage ends in tragedy. The remaining pages are about coping with grief and guilt. Beyond the two girls a whole cast of Red Hook characters come into play, each colourful in their own way as well as indispensable to the tale. We have the music teacher, Mr Sprouse, a promising life unfulfilled; we have the shop owner, Fadi, gamely writing a community newsletter; we have Lucy who can see the dead, we have her daughter Gloria, pining for her murdered husband Marcus; and we have Cree, Marcus's son. There are many more.
A recurrent theme is the sea, its vessels and the hopes they carry- the pink raft, the big cruise liners offering jobs and tourist dollars, and then the abandoned boat that belongs to Cree - a boat he dreams of taking to Florida.
This is really a touching and moving book. I am surprised it has not received more attention.