John Zaiss,
A Dedication
(Synergy, 2005)

I just finished reading A Dedication by John Zaiss. This is his first novel and it is a masterful one.

Quinn Marshall is failing his junior year of high school. He has been accused of plagiarizing a history paper and continues to achieve mediocre grades in math, even though he aced the math section of the SAT. Quinn's "whatever" attitude, while cynical and self-absorbed, is understandable and oftentimes funny. His one passion, photography, is the only thing that brings him joy.

Photography is what leads him on a fateful hike one day and causes him to meet Joe Toscano, a 70-something retired Marine who fought in Vietnam. Joe is a painter as well as a professional student at the local college. During their brief meeting during Quinn's hike, Joe recognizes Quinn's brilliance and potential, as well as his self-destructive behavior. Needless to say, Joe decides Quinn needs him and the guidance he provides, and he steps in to supply those much-needed intangibles.

Zaiss's writing style is very simplistic, making this novel accessible to all readers. It is a quick read, and it was particularly enjoyable. The developments that Quinn and Joe go through, as do Quinn's parents and other characters in the novel, are very, very predictable. The path that the novel took was easily foreseeable after the first 50 or so pages. But I particularly enjoyed how Zaiss gave us a chapter at the end that was written from Quinn's perspective and discussed the events a few years in the future -- because it provided some closure and gave us a peek at what his life had been like. That chapter left me wanting more, but not much more because it could easily have left someone with the feeling that the ending was too perfect, too smarmy. In spite of the character development and plot being predictable, how Zaiss developed the characters was very good, considering that this was a first novel.

I put this book down feeling inspired and having red eyes because I cried so much during the last few chapters. This is definitely a novel that everyone should try.

- Rambles
written by Melissa Kowalewski
published 18 June 2005

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