Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justensen

The Deepest Blue explores the idea concerning how much input teens who are minors should have the right to determine how they live their lives when tragedy strikes. Justensen explores this theme through her character, fifteen year old Mike Wilson who lives with his dad, Richard (Rich),  in Moorehead, near Atlantic Beach. They've been on their own for the past ten years.  Mike's dad runs a charter boat business in the spring and summer and works as a handyman during the fall and winter. As Mike's gotten older he has gradually assumed more responsibility, helping his father on charter trips.  Mike's life is typical; he has a girlfriend, Rachel, whom he just doesn't understand, and like many young men he's struggling to discover what he wants to do with his life, in particular if he wants to take over his dad's business some day.

Five years ago his dad met Margaret (Maggie) Delaney, his girlfriend whom he is now considering marrying. Maggie has been good for Mike, accepting him into her life and helping Rich parent his son. Mike considers Maggie to be his "real" mom since he hasn't spoken to his mother in years. Mike is thrilled that his dad has finally decided to ask Maggie to marry him. In order to do this, Mike's father decides to drive up to Raleigh to purchase an engagement ring. Sadly, the trip ends in a terrible tragedy with Mike's father being killed by a drunk driver.

In shock, Mike learns that there is even worse in store for him; his mother, Julia, whom he hasn't seen in years is his only legal guardian and she is intent on coming to Moorehead to bring him to live with her in Seattle.  Mike asks Maggie to adopt him and to be his legal guardian, which she agrees to do. However, she tells Mike that this will not be easy, as the courts often give priority to a living biological parent.

Maggie contacts Chuck Marshall, a friend of Rich's, who is a lawyer. He tells Maggie that they need to get a lawyer for Mike quickly and arrange for a hearing to determine what will happen to Mike. Chuck arranges for Ms. Young, a lawyer from Jacksonville to represent Mike at a hearing that will happen after the funeral.

As Mike struggles to come to terms with the death of his father, he must now begin to fight for the life he wants, a life that doesn't include the mother who abandoned him ten years earlier.

The Deepest Blue is completely predictable with its satisfying ending, but this novel does serve to highlight the predicament some teens find themselves caught up in during custody battles following the death of a parent of a minor child. In this novel, Justensen slowly builds the background to her story by showing the easy and close relationship Mike and his dad, Rich, have. The scene where Mike and his dad take customers on a charter fishing trip only serves to emphasize their close relationship and the conflict Mike feels about whether or not he should take on his father's business.

Mike is further shown to be a typical teenage boy in his relationship with his girlfriend, Rachel, whom he doesn't understand. Their immaturity and implusiveness is shown in how they relate to each other and is realistic. Mike is also thrilled that his father is finally going to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Maggie, in part because this means they will become a real family.

However, all this falls apart when Rich dies in a car accident. The author realistically portrays Mike's reaction to his father's death; disbelief and anger as well as extreme emotional upset that affects his ability to eat and to make good choices. Despite the turmoil, Mike becomes determined that he will not return with Julia  and he sets out, with the help of several caring adults in his life, to work towards what he believes will be best for him. This process means he will have to learn to control the anger he feels towards his mother and to behave responsibly.

Justensen walks her readers through the court process, although this aspect of the novel seemed less credible. It's unlikely much weight would be given by a judge to Michael's memories as a four year old child. It is also possible that the young teen might be interviewed separately by the judge. While the courts do give considerable weight to a minor teen's desires, it's likely that the legal procedures and the outcome would vary considerably depending upon the jurisdiction, and the particulars of each case.Certainly minor teens like Michael should and often do have a say in what happens in their lives.

Nevertheless, as Justensen demonstrates, rarely are these cases simple. In Michael's case we learn that his mother was dealing with post-partum depression as well as other mental health issues. However, the judge must  take into account that Mike's life, his school and his friends are now all situated in North Carolina. It is a fine line between balancing Mike's desire to control his life with his mother's right to reconnect with her son.

Justensen has chosen an unusual story to tackle the themes of self-determination, identity and family in The Deepest Blue. The title refers to the color of the water that Mike sees when he looks into the ocean and where he often finds solace - on the ocean in his father's boat.Without his father as his anchor in life, Mike must find his own inner strength and count on those around him to help him.

Book Details:
The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justensen
Terre Haute, IN : Tanglewood Press              2013
292 pp.

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