Vie Eliot is new to the small town of Vehpese, Wyoming. People don’t understand his name and they don’t understand him. He is now living with his abusive father after leaving his abusive mother in Oklahoma. Vie has little to his name, although the scars he carries from his mother weigh the heaviest. He doesn’t know his father and what he sees he doesn’t like.
Within days of Vie’s arrival, high schooler Samantha Oates goes missing and Vie may have insight on how to find her. Vie has insight on lots of people as he can see people’s darkest secrets. It’s unsettling to him and it’s unsettling to them and with each day that passes, it seems Vie’s ability is growing and changing. He doesn’t know anyone else that has any psychic ability and, like so many things in Vie’s life, he is on his own to figure it out.
When the killer reaches out to Vie and makes it personal, Vie has to look into the darker parts of the investigation that the police aren’t reaching. With many suspects and more potential victims, Vie feels he has no choice but to walk into the darkness lurking around him.
There’s a quick story as to how I wound up reading Mr. Big Empty, a book that was published in 2017. Gregory Ashe released a new book this week, Ember Boys, that starts a new series. That book is a spin-off from the Hollow Folk series with a previously introduced character, so I thought I should start at the beginning with Mr. Big Empty. I did have reservations going into it, as this is an older Ashe book and I wondered if maybe his writing style was different, and the MC is a teen and I don’t gravitate to books with teens. But, really, I cannot stress enough that I am extremely fortunate to have started here as Mr. Big Empty is an amazing book.
The story is told through Vie’s point of view and although he is only 16, his life has been rough. Vie’s backstory is revealed at perfect intervals. There are brief flashes of life with his mother and then a separate violent incident that led to Vie moving. Now, Vie sleeps on the couch as he shares a small apartment with his abusive, drug-addicted father and Vie cannot get a break any which way. Vie seems a bit older, he’s lived a lot of life, and his story and his struggles are difficult and heavy.
In a round about way, Vie becomes friends with two well-known boys in town, Emmett and Austin. The contrast of family life and wealth between Vie and Emmett and Austin is great, but the roots are established for friendship with the possibility of more as all of the boys are figuring themselves out. The imagery and the visual content are extraordinary in this book. From the daily heat, to Vie’s pain and self-loathing, to his long walks due to lack of transportation, to the violence he lives as well as the violence he recounts, and the psychic ability that plagues him. Having psychic ability is always something that was just part of Vie, but he has no idea how to control it or what he can develop it into. Vie is volatile as he strikes back and tries to soothe the deep hurt that is at his core. There is a lot of good to Vie, and somehow the rage inside of him could be easier to justify or overlook, but it’s a serious and strong part of his character.
The murder of a young girl is a large portion of the plot, but also is Vie’s personal story and then his friendships and feelings for both Austin and Emmett. It is not clear at this point who Vie will grow to have a relationship with and, like Vie, these boys are complex. The end leaves questions as the series continues and opens the path for more to be explored in the psychic realm and what ties the killer to Vie. Although Vie is a teenager, I would not classify this as a YA novel due to its content and this book doesn’t resemble stories of a cliché teen trying to play detective.
It was difficult to emerge and then move on from this novel as I was completely and absolutely drawn into everything that made up Vie. This book is highly recommended.