BOOK NOOK: Author’s themes feel real, and deeply personal

So far this year I have read three novels I will rank as superb. The first two were crime novels; “Smoke Kings” by Jahmal Mayfield, and “Kill For Me, Kill For You,” by Steve Cavanagh. The current one, “Sleeping Giants,” by Rene Denfield, defies categorization. You could classify it as a mystery but it is so much more.

In Denfeld’s previous novels readers encounter themes relating to situations in which children were being put at risk-this new book takes us down some of those shadowy avenues once again. I don’t know much about the author’s biography, but her themes feel real and deeply personal.

As “Sleeping Giants” begins a young boy named Dennis has just run onto a beach along the Oregon coast. It is a wild and dangerous stretch of coastline. Without hesitation Dennis plunges into the water and vanishes. As he is doing so a man pulls up in a vehicle and is shouting at Dennis.

In the next chapter we meet Larry, a retired police officer now living close to where Dennis plunged into the water years before. There’s a memorial monument to Dennis nearby. A young woman arrives there, her name is Amanda, and she will become our second point of view.

Dennis provides our initial point of view. After he jumps into the sea we get flashbacks to his earlier life and learn what caused him to do what he did. Denfeld alternates between Dennis in the past, and Amanda in the present. Amanda encounters Larry-they get to know each other.

Dennis was Amanda’s brother. They never met. Both of them were placed in new homes when they were quite young. Amanda was adopted by a couple who love her. Dennis was not so lucky, he lived in a succession of foster homes and his foster parents kept rejecting him.

As we observe what happened to Dennis we begin to realize what drove him to jump into the sea. He was eventually placed in an institution several miles inland from the spot where the book opened. There were dozens of boys living in this facility-all of them in similar situations, unwanted.

There’s a custodian who takes an interest in Dennis. We worry; is this guy a pedophile? Dennis begins undergoing a monstrous form of “therapy” administered by a woman who acts like she is some kind of an all powerful deity. Meanwhile, in the present, Amanda is searching for traces of her brother and wondering who he was and why he did what he did.

There’s a second story line-an Alaskan polar bear left motherless as a cub, now living in a zoo. Astute readers will notice parallels between this sad bear and Dennis. Amanda provides a compassionate link between the bear and Dennis. Read this, you’ll be amazed.

I almost stopped reading several times. The agony Denfeld depicts is so intense. Fortunately, I stuck with it. And I shed a few tears at the end of this magnificent mystery.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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