Wade Harrell is a mess. At 16, he knocked up his friend, Jessa, moved into his mom’s basement with Jessa to raise their baby, and still has to deal with the normal teenage angst inherent in that liminal space between child and adulthood and trying to figure himself out. As of late, Wade has only more questions because for the past two months, he’s been meeting up with his dentist, Dr. Emmett; at first it was to talk, and now not so much. Wade knows it’s wrong, knows he should be going straight home to his baby daughter, Lydie, but he needs what Dr. Emmett gives him—someone to talk to, someone who cares, someone who sees him and not a worthless disappointment. But for Wade, nothing good ever lasts, and when an act of angry desperation leads to blood, pain, and terror, the impact the event has will leave many lives changed in its wake.
Impacted is a coming-of-age story that highlights the fact that coming of age never really stops; no matter how old you get, you can still learn something about yourself—and it won’t necessarily be pretty. I feel like Impacted is best experienced without knowing much going in so the reader can ride the ripples and be surprised with who or what they hit next. The writing style is simple, precise, and fits the characters and theme well. Told in third person omniscient, the story begins with Wade on the day of impact and follows other characters caught in its wake, an interesting choice that allows the characters to convey how they see themselves and others, as well as the differences in how others perceive them. For most of the characters, even bit players, this works; however, there is one character where the shifting perspective doesn’t work well. Some of their moods/actions/motivations are wildly different from scene to scene and makes them feel inconsistent. However, there is enough substance to the character to keep them from slipping into caricature and remain compelling.
As a main character, Wade is remarkably unremarkable; a rudderless late teen who’s added the complication of unplanned parenthood to an already tumultuous period in his life.
“Wade [sees] himself as a mess of a human being, a pinball that hit every bumper, causing noise and disaster until it inevitably crashed.”
He’s content to go along and bow to a more assertive personality, only to be befuddled and angered by the consequences; yet when forced to make choices on his own, he tends to be rash, fitful, and dissatisfied with everything about himself. He wants definitive answers about who is he, how to adult, and how to be a good person; unfortunately, none of the adults is his life seem to have any answers, and the two people he used to talk to (his mom and Jessa) are the people he’s failed the most. He’s stuck in an endless loop of confusion, self-hatred, self-pity, and anger; he’s stuck in his mind as a failure who can’t do anything right so why try; and he’s simply stuck in the reality of being a kid without a clue dealing with adult responsibilities.
Wade’s his own worst enemy, and he perceives disappointment and dislike at every turn. He’s also achingly vulnerable…perfect prey for a practiced child sexual predator, an ephebophile who considers himself a do-gooder for preparing teenage boys for life and giving them experience. He shows interest, offers a sympathetic ear, and gives Wade a male in his life that he talks to like his dad. “Dr. Emmet [is] so persuasive in the beginning, when Wade was so confused.” Emmett’s sympathetic ear turns into a sympathy blow-job, and soon Wade is living for those stolen moments of freedom in his car, but freedom is rarely ever free and as Carr says, “Trauma echoes.” And the waves of the aftermath touch people in various ways. For Wade, it strips him of any place to hide from his choices and fractured life; for others, like his mom and even another teenage boy Wade doesn’t even know, it shifts the perspective of those it touches, even tangentially.
Impacted is an interesting look into the mundane, joyous, traumatic, and unexpected rollercoaster that is life. It shows one young man’s struggle with his identity, his morality, and being a frustrating mix of man and child. It conveys how simply and casually people love, harm, or are cruel to one another, and how each impact, no matter how large or small, can uncover parts of oneself, connections, or even the will to survive.
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