Truth be told: I requested a copy of The Lifeboat Clique based entirely on the brilliant cover (designed by Heather Daugherty, with artwork by Marla Moore). Reading the publisher’s synopsis I thought “Ugh… Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat filtered through a John Hughes teen comedy… Gag me with a spoon.” (People still say that, right?) After I finished it, I closed the cover and thought “Huh! Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat filtered through a John Hughes teen comedy! What a great idea!”
Denver Reynolds is a Californian high school students whose former best friend, Abigail, has gone on to bigger and better things, sitting atop the social chain, looking —or rather, snarling— down upon Denver with complete disdain. Previously, Denver made some questionable choices that had her labelled a traitor, and her life since has been a gauntlet of criticism and social gloom.
She projects a thick coat of glibness and an air of intellectual superiority (she is smarter than everybody else, after all), but that is all to hide the pain she feels as a result of her annexation and the loss of her closest compatriot.
Abigail, for her part, has made her name by hosting a series of kickass parties at other people’s empty homes. Denver is invited to one of these parties by Croix, a cute popular boy she has a crush on, but when she arrives she is greeted coolly, to put it mildly, and with great hostility, to be more accurate. When she finally gets a moment with Croix, the truly unthinkable happens: A tsunami hits the coast of California.
While almost everybody at the party is killed, Denver, Abigail, two of Abigail’s clique, and a jock with a crotch obsession find themselves floating on an abandoned boat in the middle of the ocean. There’s no land in sight and they have no idea how to get back to civilization. No food. They can’t drink the water. Death is imminent.
The Lifeboat Clique is what is called in the parlance of television writers a “bottle episode.” The idea being that you take a selection of characters that either don’t interact a lot, or have existing conflicts and stick them together in a confined space with no way out and watch the fireworks / crippling awkwardness. Think the episode of Community where Annie loses her pen, or the post 9/11 episode of The West Wing, “Isaac and Ishmael…” (In fact, The West Wing used bottle episodes to great effect through its entire run.)
Kathy Parks uses the structure wonderfully as well, masterfully drawing out the tensions, and breaking down walls here and there with effective and realistic pacing. She purposefully exposes layers of her characters over time, so that we become educated to their depths as Denver is; nobody is what they seem… Or, maybe, nobody is what the seem in isolation from anything else.
It’s no surprise that Kathy Parks is also Kathy Hepinstall, author of moody fiction for adults; this would be a remarkable first effort, so it makes sense that the author’s been around the block a few times.
The Lifeboat Clique is a legitimately funny, biting novel, which cuts apart typical high school social structures and relationships with razor sharp precision. This is a world class work that subverted my expectations and won me over handily.
Highly recommended for summer reading. (And if you don’t get to it over the summer, it’s highly recommended for the fall and winter as well…)
Kinderlit.ca requested and received a copy of The Lifeboat Clique in exchange for an honest review. Read about our Review Policy HERE.