Doug Horolez is a talentless boy hopelessly in love with his only friend, E. Summerson. That’s the good news. When E.’s sister is murdered in the woods behind town, Doug, to prove his devotion, joins a group of local pariahs, led by a deathly ill and eerily charismatic boy, who urges them to dig for clues to solve the girl's mysterious death. But as cultish bonds deepen within the group, their activities become more reckless and vengeful. Doug must then find his voice and act according to his conscience before the price to be loved becomes unspeakable violence. Kelter has created is a coming-of-age novel and psychological thriller that investigates the recurrent mysteries of loss, loneliness, and the precarious desire to belong.
In Keltner's disappointing debut, the cancer diagnosis of high school sports hero John Walker rattles the Chicago suburb of Palos Hills. Doug Horolez, an unsympathetic non-jock, dubs his classmate "Dead John Walker," a nickname picked up by other callous students. The community's malaise is somehow dissipated by the murder of sixth-grader Erika Summerson, who's stabbed to death in the woods outside Palos Hills. Doug, who has a crush on Erika's older sister, ends up joining a group of his schoolmates, including John, in investigating the crime. But Keltner fails to explain how the amateur murder probe allows the residents of Palos Hills to recover from the trauma of Walker's cancer diagnosis, especially given the investigation's ugly revelations. Readers should be prepared for some clunky prose (Doug "buried his nose between the pages and inhaled until his lungs were hard balloons full of the shared experience of this object the girl had cherished"). As a coming-of-age novel, it also falls short, given the dullness of Doug's adolescent struggles. There's very little to recommend here.