In Heroes of the Frontier (Knopf, $28.95), Dave Eggers tells the story of Josie, who has left her dental practice and taken her two young children in a rickety RV (affectionately called “the chateau”) and fled to the wilderness of Alaska. Their adventure is exciting and memorable, but the most appealing aspect of Eggers’s novel is the depiction of Josie’s kids, Ana and Paul. Ana is an indefatigable force, likely to break anything she touches. Paul is an old soul, wise beyond his eight years, and his sister’s constant guardian. Together the three of them forge a unique and hilarious camaraderie. This is a book that pushes all the right buttons: heart, adventure, intelligence—all woven together to create a great novel.
On first picking up Dodgers (Crown, $26), local writer Bill Beverly’s excellent debut, you might think it’s a crime novel. I did. The general structure of the plot is hit-man road trip: teenagers in a minivan set out from Los Angeles to kill a judge for their drug-lord boss. There’s plenty of blood in the book, and lots of running and hiding. But really Dodgers is a Western in reverse. The protagonist, East, has never left LA before he’s dispatched on this hit. He’s never thought about what it might be like to go, well, east. As he roams around the frozen Midwest, he’s more interested in watching other people’s lives than in living his own—understandable, given his line of work. The best section of the novel is a lonely stretch East spends working at a paintball range, growing comfortable in an America very different from the one that used to be his. That comfort can’t last, of course. Dodgers isn’t that kind of book. East’s got to keep moving, discovering new terrain, and though the novel ends at an airport, it feels like he’s riding off into the sunset.