Klickitat (Amulet Books 2016)

By Prof. Peter Rock [creative writing 2001–]

Reviewed by Katie Pelletier ’03

In this haunting novel, Vivian and Audra are two teenage sisters growing up in a comfortable, two-parent Portland home. They play a game to remind them of their sibling connection, exchanging the word “Klickitat”  when things are unraveling, “to help us feel better, to know that we were always sisters, always together,” Vivian explains. At first, it might not be obvious what troubles lurk, but the signs are there: their mother spends her free time watching visualizers on the computer screen, their father disappears to the basement to listen in on distant conversations with his ham radio, and Vivian keeps a life jacket in the closet, which she must put on and pull tight when she feels a fit of agitation coming over her—or else hold onto her older sister, Audra. When 17-year-old Audra, balking at the adult society she is at the precipice of joining, runs away with a young man she has recently met, Vivian must either run away, too, or risk losing her surest connection.

Klickitat is Rock’s first young adult novel, though his 2009 novel, My Abandonment, was nominated for an Alex Award, which recognizes adult books with young adult appeal. The two stories are interconnected in intriguing ways. Klickitat occupies the same fictional setting, and My Abandonment’s heroine, Caroline, a girl who is discovered to be living with her father in Portland’s Forest Park, fascinates Vivian and Audra, who seek to find her. The links complicate and add intelligent thematic dimensionality. 

Throughout, clean, uncomplicated prose  belies an uneasy, portentous atmosphere: craft qualities that are not unlike the scissors that Vivian meditates on when she finds mysterious writing in her notebook. “One single bolt or screw holds the blades of a scissors together, into one tool that can cut paper or leather or steel or meat. If you take that screw or break that bolt, the scissors become two things. Two knives.” Something common and simple becomes suddenly dangerous, as do connections and distances in this story. The nimble slipping of a screw, a chilling twist in the plot, and what happens next are all the more affecting for Rock’s lucid and straightforward approach.