Reviewed by Starza Thompson.
A good murder mystery will take readers on a number of twists and turns, enabling them to ask questions, contemplate solutions, and find satisfying resolutions. Box of Rain by Debra Borys captures the fundamentals of a good murder mystery, all while weaving information about Chicago’s troubled youth into the story. This novel is a thrilling page-turner that delves into issues about family, gangs, homelessness, and trust.
Shorty Davis and Booker T. Brooks grew up together. Even though they both aged out of the foster system, they often visited Mrs. C, their favorite guardian. Mrs. C opened her house to everyone who needed a place to stay, regardless of who they were or what kind of hard times they came upon. She was well-known in the community and respected by all. Mrs. C loved the boys and when one of them found a dead body in the dumpster next to her house, she volunteered to lie to the police so the boys wouldn’t be incriminated. The police were getting suspicious, though, as more and more evidence pointed to Booker as the murderer. Reporter Jo Sullivan always had a soft spot for homeless teens, and Booker, trying to get an education despite his circumstances, didn’t seem like a person who would kill. What Jo found out put her in more danger than she could have ever imagined.
Box of Rain is the third book of Debra Borys’s Street Stories series. Borys has spent 12 years volunteering at various charities and programs that help the homeless, both in Chicago and in Seattle. As in her previous book, Bend Me Shape Me, her experience working with troubled youth is apparent throughout this novel. She is able to paint a realistic picture of homelessness, the daily struggles teens go through, and the people who try to help them.
When an author is trying to shed light on an issue, a cause, or a problem in society, they can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed in delivering the message, often losing the literary part of the novel in the process. This is not the case with Box of Rain. The issue of homelessness is expertly woven throughout the book, causing the reader to think about homelessness without it being the primary purpose of the story. The murder mystery comes first, taking the reader on an exciting journey, all while highlighting the hardships that many Chicago youth face. Box of Rain is an excellent gateway for readers who normally wouldn’t read a story about social issues to learn about homelessness without realizing it.
As a fan of murder mysteries, I really enjoyed the plot. From the beginning until the murderer was revealed, I questioned everyone’s motives and tried to figure out who was responsible for the body in the dumpster. Borys did an excellent job of leading the reader down false paths, painting a suspicious picture of almost everyone, and yet creating an ending that would shock even the most die-hard murder mystery fan. My only complaint about the novel is that Shorty and Booker’s dialogue was as stereotypical as their names. The slang felt forced and stereotypical rather than natural. I would have preferred more realistic dialogue that flowed better within the story.
Overall, Box of Rain is a chilling murder mystery filled with exciting twists that make the reader question every character, while opening the readers’ eyes to the plight of homelessness in Chicago. I recommend this book to murder mystery fans, social cause activists, and everyone in between. This book will not disappoint.