Kala by Colin Walsh
Published by Doubleday
Publication date: July 6, 2023
Even when it’s a tourist destination on the Irish coast a small town is still just a small town to the teens who live there—a boring place to escape as soon as possible. For the six disparate, but tightknit friends in Colin Walsh’s novel, Kala, teen boredom and energy lead to a prank that goes wrong, starting a domino effect that leaves one of their group missing and their bonds broken. Now, 20 years later they’ve returned to Kinlough with no expectation of reconnecting. Right up until a skeleton is found on a construction site and the past is present again.
Shortly after the shocking news about the human remains, Walsh slips Kala back to the past to carefully construct the personal histories of the novel’s three main characters: Helen, Joe, and Mush. Although wild child Kala is at the group’s center she never speaks except as relayed by those around her. In another interesting choice, Joe’s narrative is in the second person, giving his chapters an odd feeling of disconnection, almost as if he is standing outside himself. These details come together smoothly evoking the teen awkwardness, drama and angst familiar to so many.
While I admire Walsh’s world building, it’s the focus of novel’s first half, even amidst current events such as identification of the skeleton and the disappearance of two sisters. Establishing and defining the relationships of Kala, Joe, Helen, Aidan, Mush, and Aiofe is key, but the momentum of a mystery is lost. It’s only in the second half that the pieces begin to come together, but now, crammed as they are in the final half, Walsh loses control of the plot’s acceleration. The resulting pileup feels like everything being thrown into the plot pot, whereas more even pacing might have kept certain scenes from feeling implausible. It impacted my rating of Kala, but my enjoyment of Walsh’s writing stands and I look forward to seeing what he does next.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.*