Year Published: 2016.
Genres: Contemporary / romance / speculative fiction / magical realism
Source: Thank you to the author for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
John Sloan is an ex-Marine with a life-long secret that is haunting him. He is a conduit to a healing light that draws him to people on the brink of emotional disintegration, people who are then healed and Helped by this light. His blue-collar world is shattered when he finds that his connection to this anonymous portal has vanished. He is alone, seemingly beyond aid, and in desperate need of a Helping himself. The book tracks the intersecting lives of John and two other Helpers. His lifelong friend Dusty Hakalla is a mixed-blood Ojibwe, with a secret of his own. His power to Help is remarkable, but was once destructively misused. A career Marine, his scarred childhood and momentary abuse of power have left him jaded and bereft. Deena Morrison, also a Helper, is John's girlfriend. Adopted as an infant, she flees John to find her birth-mother, while carrying within herself her own secret. Another character shadows their lives as narrator, Nan'b'oozoo, the trickster god of Ojibwe legend—at times sarcastic and petulant, at others insightful and humorous.
I was hesitant to read this book, since it's a genre I've very rarely attempted and enjoyed.
But to my surprise, I did thoroughly enjoy it, and I'm so glad I gave it a try!
Snow is a fantastic storyteller. Just brilliant. The story was never boring, I was constantly entertained, and considering the blurb's promise of a meandering plot, I was again surprised at how it held my attention. It was very well written, and the narrator was delightfully spirited and sassy; that's all I can say without giving spoilers.
The story - and indeed the writing - was quirky, original, and imaginative. It was mystical and almost hypnotising.
The ending was perfect. I nearly cried, and I thought Snow did an excellent job of bringing everything to a close.
The characters were all rich and three-dimensional. In addition, there was lots of cultural diversity and satisfied opportunity to showcase that. John, Dusty, Deena, and everyone else's personalities came through clearly, and the characters changed and grew as the story progressed. My personal favourite was Mrs. Abbott: what a wonderful woman. I wish I could meet her character and talk to her; she seemed like such an amazing, compassionate, motherly person who was tragically kept her pain inside, and she truly touched my heart; despite her lack of presence in the book.
Unfortunately I did have some issues with certain parts in the book:
There was unnecessary, crude, and frequent preserve scenes. Most of them were unnecessary, and the level of explicitness was uncalled for.
There was a lot of bad language, and it was disgusting. The characters and narrator were constantly swearing, and it was unnecessary and dirty.
As much as I liked and respected most of the female characters in this book, I could not condone the crude language and unnecessary attention drawn to them and their bodies. In almost every description of a woman, the narrator referred to their breasts and body as if that was the main focus, and as if the size of their breasts somehow determined their identity. I was not happy with that, to put it mildly. And although in context such information can be suited, the degree of information and frequency of such information in this particular novel was very unnecessary.
This isn't another criticism; more like a note: Considering John's cultural background, it made sense that he talk in a more refined, English dialect. But while he did talk like that for most of the time, he had the occasional bouts of dialogue that displayed a more unrefined, more Dusty-like way of talking. It was like the author couldn't make up his mind. That was frustrating and confusing.
The Helper was an entertaining, moving, intriguing and brilliantly written novel packed with strong characters. The bad language and perverse sexual content were very unfortunate, but I still managed to enjoy the story.