Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton is a book that has left me a little confused. I wouldn’t really say confused with bad connotations, I just don’t know what to think of this book. I don’t know whether it’s brilliant or it’s not. I don’t know whether to cheer the ending or lament it. I don’t know whether it’s cliché or it’s one of a kind. I really cannot say. What I can say, that this is honestly the first time I have encountered book that involves pirates, vampires and mental illness all at the same time. It’s definitely original in a sense.
We start the book off meeting Jamie. He’s eight years old. His mother has just died and his father is dead as well. There is nowhere for Jamie to go, but to an orphanage. We leave Jamie at eight going to a terrible place. We pick up with him again twenty years later in a mental institution. Jamie is deathly scared of the dark and needs medications to function on the most basic level. What has happened to Jamie?
For the longest time Jamie does not talk to the psychologist, Dr. Mcdervitt, at the institution. One day he decides to talk. Jamie begins to relay a tale about traveling the world. You name the country, he’s been there. He was in the Navy for a few years. He sailed around the world after the navy getting into fights and running guns for the conflict in Ireland. Jamie has his share of run-ins, including a run-in with pirates and a shark on the same day. Apparently, if a shark rubs up against you it can mess up your skin pretty badly.
As exciting as Jamie’s tales of alcohol, sailing, cocaine, and whorehouses are, the good doctor doesn’t feel any of this is what caused Jamie to be in the state he is in. First of all, Jamie was transferred from another much worse mental institution where he was, no doubt, abused and neglected. Second of all, Jamie has been shot three times. Third of all, Jamie is no hyper-sensitive to pain. Fourth of all, he’s immensely scared of the dark.
In Jamie’s head we find out the reason for this. The man paying for Jamie’s stay at the mental institution is a man named Grenville Hawkes. He is from a place called Hawkes Harbor and lives in a place called Hawkes Hall. From the description of the area, I assume this place is in Virginia or North Carolina on the coast. Roanoke is mentioned in relation to the area. The area of Hawkes Harbor is rumored to have a treasure and Jamie is all over that. He has only ended up in Hawks Harbor because his friend, Kellen Quinn, has gone there to try to scam his ex-wife.
What Jamie finds in one of the caves is not what he expects to find. It’s actually something he never expects to find. What he finds is a vampire who has been chained in a coffin. Upon Jamie releasing the vampire he drains his blood and asks him what year it is. Jamie soon learns to treat this situation somewhat normally, but is becomes deathly afraid of the dark. Grenville becomes something of a jailor to Jamie, Grenville being the vampire’s name.
Jamie is released from the mental institution on orders of another doctor, who isn’t really a doctor at all, Louisa Khane. After Jamie’s release we get more of the story. Besides the whole sucking some of Jaime’s blood and telling Jaime that he will kill him, Grenville isn’t really that bad of a guy. He wants to reform. Apparently he’s been cursed and the only way to break the curse is to get someone who put it on him to take it off. We don’t get the specifics, but Grenville does end up being human again, much to the thanks of Jaime, but Jaime is mentally scarred from the ordeal. Jaime is mentally scarred from life.
The rest of the book comprises several years of Jaime’s life in which he does make progress. He manages to kick his addiction to his medication and earns himself a place in the community of Hawkes Harbor. What happens to Jaime in the end may be a surprise or it may not.
What I liked
I’ve read books by S.E. Hinton before. Mainly I remember reading a book called Tex. It’s very Red Pony-ish in ways. S.E. is known for writing young adult novels, but this one is definitely not what I would call a young adult novel. There is too much sexual content to start with, for this to be a YA novel. The sexual content is not gratuitous, but it really is too much for a so-called “young adult” novel. The novel is also very psychological and it’s too much for teenagers to comprehend. I do like that this book is more grown up.
I don’t really know what to feel about the combination of pirates, debauchery, vampires, drugs, and mental illness. I really don’t. I would have to say, this is the first time I have ever encountered this combination in a book. Vampires and werewolves aren’t really that weird, but vampires and pirates? I don’t really know whether to like this combination or dislike it.
These days we aren’t seeing a lot of vampires turning back into humans. That actually used to be a theme in the world of vampire movies and books. You might be able to turn yourself back into a human under the right circumstances. These days we’re seeing a trend to keep vampires, vampires, no matter what. People even want to join up like it’s some kind of special club. I don’t know if I like the idea that S.E. reformed the vampire or not.
Jaime is severely broken. He never really had a chance in life. He’s a good person and at the same time, he’s not a good person. This is the kind of guy who will have sex with any woman and then go and snort cocaine, but he’s also the kind of guy who will spend his spare time helping children and the homeless. Jaime does reform in a way, but it’s too late. Jaime helps Grenville out, but he also helps himself out.
I grew to like Grenville in this book. He really does change during the tale. He transforms and learns to live life as a human. He develops these more human emotions and learns to deal with the times. He develops a love and kinship for Jaime. Jaime becomes almost this second child to Grenville.
What I didn’t like
I don’t like that I’m not sure how to feel about this book. I don’t know if I should love it or hate it. I even slept on it before writing this review to better understand how I felt about this book. I just don’t know what to feel. I don’t feel ambivalence or apathy. Those are usually pretty clear feelings about a book, well, to me. I know if I like a book and I know if I hate a book. I know if I’m unimpressed. With this book, I’m really just not sure.
I’m not sure if I like the ending. In ways it seems apt. In others it seems sad. It doesn’t seem unjust though, which is important.
Some of you guys, please read this book and tell me in the comments section how you feel about it. I don’t know whether to praise it or condemn it.