Dakota Son
by Mary Ramsey

"All I ever wanted was to feel normal in my own skin. Because being normal comes with happiness, right?"

This novel tells the story of Sean Foster, an adopted son living with cystic fibrosis. A former high school gymnastics star who dreams of competing in the Paralympics, he and his girlfriend Jen are survivors of sexual assault. Their similar backgrounds and individual tragedies bond them; they fall in love and eventually marry. Sean’s sister Sara is UCLA-bound, thanks largely to the tutelage she receives from Jen’s father, Diego Quinto, a disabled, decorated war veteran. After Sean recovers from a serious car accident that had left him in a coma for two months, Sara leaves North Dakota to attend UCLA, and Sean accompanies her. While living in California, Sean eventually meets the reality star and supermodel London Sharp, under whom his agent obtains work for him as a model. Sean achieves a level of fame, but then news about Diego suddenly reaches him—the war veteran is being physically abused by his wife, who is slowly trying to murder him because she blames him for the death of Cam, their young son.

Ramsey creates a memorable character with Sean, in whose welfare readers become easily invested. While the episodic nature of the plot sometimes causes the story to lack a specific narrative thrust, the author’s skillful use of magical realism gives the narrative a haunting, ethereal quality, particularly within scenes involving the deceased Cam. One such scene begins with a comatose Sean vividly describing the hospital surroundings: “I wandered the empty halls of a desolate, decaying hospital ward… Broken glass panels within the wood frames revealed the rooms’ desolate contents: decrepit beds, and hospital equipment covered in black vines.” Equally memorable is Ramsey’s portrait of Diego, which suggests a man as kindhearted as he is menacing, a characterization which creates an effective air of mystery.

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