The Bottom Line: An emotionally explosive and life-affirming coming of age story wrapped within a simmering crime thriller.
Fan Mail is a coming of age story centered around the lives of seven brothers – two biological, and five adopted – in the Evans family. Several of the boys are sophomores at WIsconsin’s Waukesha North High School, where a car bomb wreaks havoc in the school parking lot.
Meanwhile, two of the Evans boys are in a contemporary country music band that is rapidly gaining momentum (Tim McGraw is putting three of their songs on his next album). But they get a taste of the dark side of fame as they are receiving menacing fan mail (fans of Lewis’ Blaze In, Blaze Out – while technically not a prequel to Fan Mail – may recall the storyline beginning there).
The FBI believes the sender is someone they know. Most likely, a classmate. Could the sender also be capable of violence?
Among the numerous compelling individual storylines is that of Brian, who believes he is the cause of their father’s heart attack. Before the incident, the boys’ father seemed to be upset that Brian – who is bisexual – and adopted brother Two were “hanging on each other.” In addition, Jeremy may have discovered Brian’s search history, which included research into how to become an emancipated minor. As a consequence of these and other influences, Brian fears that his father may even regret adopting him.
Investigations into both the car bombing and threatening fan mail simmer throughout the first half of the book, gathering steam en route to an explosive climax toward the end. Meanwhile, author Joseph Lewis reminds us throughout the story that adolescent dreams, desires and traumas often loom larger in the minds of young men than external threats. As usual, Lewis explores all of the above thoroughly, while leaving himself just the right number of loose ends to tackle elsewhere.
Given all the focus on the Evans family, Lewis also fleshes out their surrounding community of friends like never before, which is both narratively important as well as essential for some of the book’s hardest-hitting scenes. In one of our favorites, close family friend Jeff – whose car was completely destroyed in the school bombing – visits Jeremy’s hospital room and gives him some straight talk about his approach to parenting Brian.
Fan Mail works reasonably well as a stand alone book, and newcomers to the Evans family saga will find themselves immediately engrossed in Lewis’ complex, high-drama narrative. With that said, we recommend readers binge Lewis’ earlier books (especially Betrayed and Blaze In, Blaze Out) in order to get the most out of the references to earlier experiences and storylines.