cover image Not the Killing Kind

Not the Killing Kind

Maria Kelson. Crooked Lane, $29.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63910-967-8

Poet Kelson (Flexible Bones, as Maria Melendez) delivers a stirring debut novel about a woman fighting to exonerate her adopted son. In a small town on California’s Humboldt Bay, Boots Marez runs a K–8 school that caters predominantly to undocumented families. Six years ago, she adopted 12-year-old Jaral after seeing his picture in a display at the local library, and—barring some standard adolescent outbursts—she has succeeded in raising him on her own. When Jaral cuts class a few weeks before high school graduation, Boots agrees to delay grounding him so he can “handle” an unspecified “something” that night. The next morning, Jaral calls Boots in a panic to report that his friend, Nando Peregrino, is bleeding out at home. Nando is dead by the time Boots arrives, and Jaral becomes the prime suspect in his murder. Convinced by Jaral’s insistence that he found Nando after he’d been wounded, Boots launches an investigation in hopes of clearing her son’s name; meanwhile, she fends off hostile parents trying to oust her from the school she helped create. Kelson loads the plot with satisfying twists, and the aching, memorably sketched relationship between Boots and Jaral heightens the drama. This bodes well for Kelson’s future in fiction. (Sept.)