Tom Morrisey,
In High Places
(Bethany House, 2007)

Rock-climbing enthusiast Patrick Nolan has the kind of relationship with his father that every kid dreams of: more best friends than relatives, a father-and-son duo who spend their weekends out on the rocks. We meet the pair on a typical climbing excursion -- but the day is far from ordinary. The two reach home to find that their mother has been found dead inside her car, an apparent suicide.

Grief prods the two to move out to the sleepy mountain town of Seneca Falls, West Virginia, hoping to find solace in the spectacular rock ascents it offers. They open a climbing equipment shop, keeping 16-year-old Pat busy and distracted from coping with his mother's death. He narrates the ins and outs of Seneca life, as he and dad Kevin bide their time climbing, keeping shop and fixing up their rustic home.

Just as you begin to wonder when the story's main plot is going to hatch, Pat meets Rachel Ransom: petite, angelic and the daughter of a Baptist preacher. Any story about growing up isn't complete without some sort of romance, and Pat falls for Rachel fast. The catch? The only religion Pat has ever known is out there on the rocks -- but it doesn't take long for him to figure out that life with Dad in Seneca Falls -- a sort-of rock-climbing bohemia -- doesn't exactly mesh with the Ransom household. But much to his surprise, he is warmly accepted by both daughter and father.

As Pat sorts through his late mother's belongings, the teen also begins sifting through the jumble of emotions regarding her death. He comes across startling evidence that raises more questions about his mother's unsettling passing. She was never a religious woman ... or was she? Pat's relationship with Rachel gives him the faith needed to finally confront his mother's death -- and do a little self-discovery as well.

Morrissey is a skilled storyteller, opening each chapter with just enough storyline to compel you to keep on reading. There are some truly captivating chapters that'll have you eagerly turning the pages -- and maybe even wishing you were out there climbing, too. But some chapters seem to lose their spark, leaving you hanging like a weary climber. As Pat matures, the story gets a bit choppy. He seems to go from age 16 to his mid-20s in an instant. The novel's bittersweet conclusion leaves readers to grapple a bit for those missing five-some years.

But all in all, In High Places is a solid summer read. The plot is creative, the romance is sweet and Pat's recollections of mountain ascents make an amateur climber like myself want to get out there and climb! The author throws in interesting tidbits from climb guidebooks to preface each chapter, subtly linking Pat's climbing excursions to the inner struggles he is dealing with. It's impossible to ignore the religious undertones of the tale; however, Morrisey introduces Pat to religion without getting too preachy -- and suitably prefaces the book with Ephesians 6:12 to point out that no matter how high we climb, there are some troubles we just can't escape:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principles, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness In High Places."

review by
Kim O'Brien

8 September 2007

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