Outside Inby Doug Cooper (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by Greenleaf Book Group on December 18, 2013
Genres: Adult, Coming of Age, Contemporary, Fiction, General, Social Issues
Source: TLC Tours
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I received this book for free from TLC Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-in-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd—recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student—it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.
Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.
A look at one man's belated coming of age that's equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.
Brad Shepherd worked hard to be a math teacher, and it was a job that he thought he was meant to do and would always enjoy. But when a student overdoses on prescription pills and dies in his classroom, Brad is basically forced to resign from his position. After dedicating his life to his students, he now faces a long summer with no plans for his future–and at twenty-eight years old, he only knows that he wants to get away from his disapproving mother’s eyes.
He winds up in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, an island vacation spot on the lake, where from Memorial Day through Labor Day, there’s an endless stream of booze, drugs, sex, and new people moving through the small island. Finding work as a bouncer at a bar, Shep quickly lets go of his old structured, responsible life and embraces the fewer responsibilities and much less pressure of summer work here while partying to pass the time. Living with drug dealer Cinch Stevens introduces Shep to a world of illicit drugs, and at first he just dabbles, but it quickly escalates into a full blown addiction to cocaine and other substance use. Soon their main goal is to get high, then working is secondary. Their days are filled with drugs, alcohol, girls, and hopping from bar to bar after their shift ends at their own bar. Once the bars close, they head to after hours parties or make their own at the cove or the monument.
Shep’s downward spiral starts as something fun to do, something representing that he doesn’t have the responsibility of teaching anymore. This quarter-life crisis has him doing things that are very uncharacteristic of him, but he’s searching for the real Shep. He just mistakenly happens to think that the island, drugs, booze, and hookups will help him find the person that’s hidden inside of him. It’s uncomfortable to watch this descent, knowing that nothing good will come from these things. But the excellent writing and characterizations kept me turning the pages to see if Shep could pull himself up out from the depths of his addiction and find his self confidence again.
The side characters are well written and developed. From Shep’s drug dealing roommate to alcoholic bartender Haley, to hot and cold love interest Astrid, to stoic guitar-playing Caldwell, each one challenges Shep and pulls him in opposite directions. Each one has their own distinct problems, and I enjoyed reading about all of them.
I give Outside In a four out of five. The writing flows so smoothly with beautifully descriptive passages without being overly wordy. I could just imagine what Put-In-Bay looks like. Shep’s journey was an enjoyable but difficult one to read, and he did jump into the drug scene with gusto. If he didn’t jump right in, the book wouldn’t be as exciting. The ending was a bit unrealistic, in my opinion. For someone who had such a large drug habit, I think that detoxing would be a bit rougher. It’s a small island, and everyone knows your business, so I’d think that Shep’s new job would be a little harder to get. But overall, I highly enjoyed Shep’s journey.
Enter to win a copy of Outside In by Doug Cooper. Open to US/Canada only
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Thursday, April 24th: Knowing the Difference
The author also has a giveaway on Goodreads through April 30, 2014.