After years of moving from motel to motel with his alcoholic mother, Carson Calley has grown old enough to start questioning his gypsy life. The stories he’s been told – father died a war hero, a past life as a medicine man – slowly unravel as the 13-year-old begins to spread his wings.
However, of all his mother’s stories (I’d wouldn’t lie,” she assures him, “the gods … plant things in my head”), Carson knew one was true – he did possess the gift of healing. Since his earliest days, his hands would fill with heat and then emit tiny “stars” that soothe his mother’s tortured heart and frequent hangovers. Yet despite this power, Carson also experienced rages that he can’t control, an anger seated in his mother’s frequent long absences. To distract himself, he grabs his skateboard and wanders the streets of Hollywood.
Author Sary adroitly captures the real Hollywood: streetwalkers, grit and grime, tattoo parlors and head shops and gangs of idle youth. She also portrays its denizens free of stereotype and with a lyric eye: Carson’s mother “had a worn-out kind of beauty – like a thirsty flower.” Of Carson’s few friends, tattoo artist Faris “looked like a live page from a comic book,” while Casper, the albino owner of a local head shop, “looked like he had a light bulb inside of him.”
Faris gives Carson gruff, fatherly advice, world-weary insight into his mother’s issues and stories, and the boy’s first tattoo: a small black crow to remind him of his father, who, he’s told, killed a crow with his bare hands. Casper offers something else: when Carson heals his deaf ear, the head shop proprietor sets up a back room where the boy can practice healing.
Accepting her son’s readiness to heal, his mother arranges for him to work with a mentor: Lolo, a healer and an actress. Unfortunately, Lolo digs a little too deep into her part. She puts the idea of raising the dead into the teen’s mind, and he immediately decides to fly to Washington, D.C., and bring his father back to life. He needs to earn some money first, though, so in the meantime, he heals people during the day and skateboards with a gang of stoner kids at night. At school, a classmate, Rose, torments his heart. It’s a tenuous existence, but it’s all life offers Carson.
And it doesn’t last. His mother’s drinking increases as her longtime boyfriend, Jackson, toys with her heart. When she goes into rehab, Carson questions the truth of all she’s told him. Lies begin to unravel. Carson makes the trip to D.C.’s Cemetery of Heroes, but what he finds is more painful truth, followed by an even greater shock when he returns home. Carson’s faith in all he knows is shaken to the core. Can the healer heal his own heart?
A writer with a casual but empathetic voice, Sary succeeds in portraying teen angst without melodrama, in depicting compassion without sentimentality, and in creating a world of characters on the margins of society whose depth and complexity outshine any Hollywood hero.
Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary earned a First In Category position in the highly competitive Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction, a division of Chanticleer Reviews International Writing Competitions.