King of Tennessee
by David Alan Shorts
LifeRich Publishing

"I’m not a looter; I’m a squatter. I didn’t want to grab stuff and go; I wanted to grab stuff and stay."

Stewart Rainquest has always been a handful in school and with his grandmother. With a father who died serving in Afghanistan and an addict mother in and out of prison, his life is by no means idyllic. However, he chooses to process this pain by lashing out as a bully and a constant troublemaker. While being driven home by his granmother after being suspended from school and threatened with expulsion, Stewart is only thinking about how to turn his discipline on its head and enjoy the time off school when the unthinkable happens. A flash of light in the sky is followed by the mysterious disappearance of his grandmother and countless other people. In the blink of an eye, life has completely changed for Stewart, who now has to rely on his wits and skills to survive on his own.

Stewart's dream of a world without rules quickly becomes a nightmare, though, when he witnesses a local biker gang murder a woman right in front of him. He realizes that this new world he lives in is one in which some would go out of their way to hurt him just for fun or to display their power. Stranded and alone, Stewart eschews every attempt at rescue to remain in Tabersville, but each passing day wears on his mind and his body. Befriending a terminally ill teenager and staying one step ahead of the biker gang he dubs "The Plague," Stewart proves adept at keeping himself alive. Yet every trial makes him question if this is any way for him to live. With nothing left to lose, Stewart has to make a final stand and try to escape to safety.

Drawing on concepts from the Book of Revelation and its depiction of the Rapture, the apocalyptic lifestyle that Stewart must endure also brings to mind scenes from zombie films and other movies like Mad Max. Like the twelve-year-old boy he is, Stewart at first relishes the chance to live without rules or parental supervision, something that other young adult readers may identify with. However, the author provides examples both big and small about how people live in communities for a reason, depending on and trusting each other every day in order to coexist comfortably. The perspective of a young person bucking against authority shines through with authenticity, driving the narrative forward with a mixture of street-smart responsibility and selfish disdain that helps the protagonist survive.

Troubled youth may identify with Stewart's basest behaviors, but there is still room for growth and redemption as Stewart learns to look after the weakened Gina and even a stray cat named Norman. As the book moves on, those that might picture themselves in the main character may begin to see the opportunities for growth and self-improvement that he experiences, albeit hopefully without such a drastic change in life circumstances. Full of action, drama, and even a little comedy, this book takes biblical concepts and teachings and frames them into a worldview that proves less idealistic and maybe more pragmatic for some people, teaching how to adopt grace and spirituality in a world that seems to forego it at every turn. Young and older readers alike will remember the message of this book as vividly as they do the gruesome cinematic sequences of cat and mouse.

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