It’s the fall of 1995 in a small, sleepy town in suburban America. A young boy named Brandon disappears while walking home from school. The people of the town assume he’ll come back on his own account, but his classmates, Jake and Colin, become less sure. They set out to discover what has happened to Brandon, but as more and more boys vanish from the neighborhood they inadvertently end up putting their own lives at risk.
Though it has been written from the perspective of children, Neighborhood Watch is notably NOT a children’s book. Part of that has to do with the grisly subject matter. Although Jake and Colin imagine all sorts of dark things, they are children and don’t really understand concepts like sex, power, lust and murder and the more the adults around them try to keep the grisly details from them, the more they imagine things, but it’s never what we, as the reader, suspect is going on.
Jake and Colin, outcasts at their primary school, form a detective club with occasional help of their friend Evan, and get up to all sorts of things their unsuspecting parents have no knowledge of. They frequently lie about sleepovers and go out after curfew to stalk the houses of their neighbours. They use black markers to camouflage their t-shirts until Jake’s mother buys them black longsleeves. They stalk the homes of people they consider to be suspects; usually, there’s little logic to them, and as the reader we’re never quite sure if the things they see are real or imagined.
What struck me about this novel, too, was just how true to childhood it felt. It’s hard to write children well from an adult’s perspective, but Turkot evidently hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a child. Jake and Colin are frequently not believed by their parents; in turn, they frequently lie. They think they’re ready to take on the world but the things they do are almost always reckless and often dumb. Yet they’re convinced they’re outsmarting everyone, that they’re the only ones who can solve the crime. Which isn’t to say they aren’t likeable; they are. They’re just average prepubescent boys who think they’re being secretive.
The conclusion to this novel felt a bit too cliché, which surprised me a little because the rest of the book is much more original, and I did not care for the foreshadowing the author did because it never seems to lead anywhere. Yet these are minor quibbles. I really enjoyed this book for its authenticity and the respect with which the author treats these children. There are plenty of authors who could stand to learn a thing or two from that.