Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky

A quirky, contemporary love story with a paranormal twist are at the heart of Brian Yansky’s Utopia, Iowa.

utopia iowaJack Bell has an unusual gift—or curse, depending on your point of view. And he’s not the only one. In Utopia, Iowa, anything can happen.

An Urban fantasy (small town urban) with paranormal elements (ghosts, witches, fortune-cookies that come true, an astral traveling movie-theater owner, a goddess, a banshee). Kind of funny. Utopia, Iowa is a place where the people are strange and there are stranger things than people. Our hero, Jack, is a high school boy who wants to be a screenwriter and has a serious crush on his best friend, Ash. He also happens to see ghosts. When two girls are murdered in Utopia, those ghosts insist he help them find their murderers. This gets him into all kinds of trouble with the police. But there’s something darker and much more powerful than local law enforcement interested in Jack. Will Jack’s dream of becoming a screenwriter come true or will he be caught up in a nightmare he can’t get away from?

Utopia, Iowa is the kind of book that could have easily become a contemporary, realistic book. Without the ghosts and visions and witchcraft, the book could have easily been about a teenage boy with dreams of becoming a screenwriter, trying to cope with his longtime crush on his BFF, and deciding whether or not to leave the small town he’s known and loved his whole life. It’s a compelling enough idea, and certainly sounds like a book I’d enjoy.

But then Yansky went and mixed in a delightful paranormal twist, and this quirky, charming story about young love and growing up got a lot more intense. In a good way.

What I loved so much about this book is how delicately Yansky balances the mundane, realistic issues — family trauma, high school crushes, the teenage debate about what to do after graduation — with the higher-stakes of Jack’s paranormal calling. There’s a mysterious death to investigate, and a darker magic at work — and all those mundane issues, though still relevant and persistent, are put into perspective by the bigger picture that Jack’s power provides the story.

Utopia, Iowa is in stores February 10th.

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