Cover of The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson. A teen boy stands on top of a minivan parked on a beach

About the Book

Title: The Prince of Venice Beach
Published: 2014

Cover Story: “Yoinks! Like, Let’s Get Out of Here, Scoob!”
Drinking Buddy:
“I’ve Got Eight Slugs in Me, One’s Lead, the Rest are Bourbon.”
Testosterone Level:
“Don’t Fire the Gun While You’re Talking!”
Talky Talk:
“I Always Leave a Note for My Mother When I’m on a Case.”
Bonus Factors:
Bromance Status: 
“All Righty Then!”

Cover Story: “Yoinks! Like, Let’s Get Out of Here, Scoob!” -Shaggy Rogers

It’s a nice little picture, with the dude on top of the Mystery Mobile. Unfortunately, Cali doesn’t have a car, so this whole livin’ in a van down by the river has nothing to do with the story.

The Deal:

Sixteen-year-old Robert ‘Cali’ Callahan ran away from foster care in Nebraska a couple of years ago. Now he’s living in a tree house on a California beach, spending his days surfing, playing street basketball and taking it easy. Life is good. What more could a dude want?

Cali, who has a reputation for getting along with everyone, is asked by a private investigator to track down a runaway teen boy. It’s not hard to find him (dumbass uses his debit card and distinctive car) and Cali saves him from a brutal mugging. And he’s well rewarded.

For the first time in his life, Cali thinks maybe he’s found his calling. Being a PI is kind of badass, after all. Maybe if he goes to night school, starts putting himself out there, he could have his own fedora, mustache, and bourbon bottle.

Of course, some people don’t want to be found. Some people have very good reasons for staying lost.

Drinking Buddy: “I’ve Got Eight Slugs in Me, One’s Lead, the Rest are Bourbon.” –Tracer Bullet

Two pints of beer cheersing

Now Cali is pretty hard core. He plays street basketball, hangs with the homies, watches out for his buds, and makes it on the street. And he lives in a tree house, how cool is that?

Except the tree house is in Hope Stillwell’s backyard. Hope is a middle-aged hippie who lets Cali live out back for whatever money he can throw her way. And use her outdoor shower. And her internet. And take care of his banking when he needs to cash a check or whatever. And feeds him sometimes.

Cali is homeless in the sense that he has no family, no fixed address, and doesn’t sleep in a house. On the other hand, he does have a safe place to spend the night. He never has to spend the day out in the rain or go for weeks without bathing. While a lot of his friends are genuine transients, Cali really isn’t.

Testosterone Level: “Don’t Fire the Gun While You’re Talking!” –Frank Drebin

Upon becoming an investigator, Cali doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of things. Like getting jumped by guys with bats who want you to mind your own business. Soon he has a most impressive collection of bruises.

On the other hand, you can’t date much when your bachelor pad doesn’t have running water or furniture. Ailis, a teenage friend of Hope’s, kind of takes a shine to Cali, and he’s lonely enough to take her to the movies. Unfortunately, this couple has zero chemistry. Ailis just likes the idea of Cali’s independence, Cali just likes the idea of having a girl like him.

But then there’s Reese Abernathy, the latest runaway on Cali’s list. She’s rich, talented, and gorgeous. Will Cali send her home, or maybe help her make a new home, right here in Venice?

Talky Talk: “I Always Leave a Note for My Mother When I’m on a Case.” –Nate the Great

For a street kid, Cali is a little naive. For instance, when he’s asked to track down a homeless guy, he assumes his employers only have the kindest of motives. The guy might have long lost family! Perhaps he’s inherited some money.

Then the guy vanishes and Cali begins to wonder just what he’s done.

And then there’s Reese. Cali is being paid a LOT to find her. And now he’s found her. But when he hears Reese’s story about the abuse she faced at home, her mother’s death, and how she’s running for survival…maybe he should just give the money back. That won’t look suspicious at all.

A lot of twists and turns in this one, and some good surprises on the reader. Lots of fist fights as well.

Bonus Factor: Homeless

A person sits on the side of the rode with a sign

While Cali is only quasi-homeless, most of the people in his social circle live on the street. Jojo, the extremely nice, somewhat dim, Jesus freak. Jax, the nutjob spoiling for a fight. Strawberry, the cute girl who lives in her own little world.

There’s violence, disease, loneliness. But there’s also friendship and good times. Nelson does a great job showing that street people are human beings, and they don’t live like that because they’re lazy.

Bromance Status: “All Righty Then!” –Ace Ventura

I enjoyed the read, but I have to get back…home. Um, take care.

FTC Full disclosure: Little, Brown and Company sent me a free copy of this book, but no change for the bus.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.