Before Leonora Wakes
by Lee Thompson
published in 2010
I figured if I was going to dive into Lee Thompson's Division mythos, I needed to start at the very beginning, and that meant reading his novella, Before Leonora Wakes, a coming-of-age adventure focusing on the boyhood version of Red Piccirilli.
Set in 1960s Michigan, Red is a twelve-year-old boy whose only friend, Pig, is imaginary. Always up for adventures together, they see a strange man who not only appears to possess supernatural abilities, but can also see Pig, which frightens the imaginary sidekick. They follow the stranger to his home though, hoping to find out his secret, and wind up discovering there is a little girl trapped in a cage inside the stranger's shed. Despite the menace that radiates from the man, Pig convinces Red they need to rescue the girl. But they've already been warned by the stranger to stay away, and when a new friend of Red's named Amy goes missing, the stakes are raised even more.
Red is an immensely intriguing character, complemented by his relationships and decisions throughout the story. The quickly evolving relationship he has with his imaginary friend, Pig, was especially engrossing. At first, it's not quite clear if Pig is a ghost or pure concoction, but he certainly takes on a life of his own and exhibits his own motivations and desires as the story progresses. Red, in reaction to this, is faced with whether the friendship he has with Pig is as innocent and mutually beneficial as he always took for granted.
The rescue story really hearkened to those wonderful childhood stories of wanting to be the knight in shining armor who saves the damsel in distress. It's the kind of story that nearly every boy daydreams about at some point in their childhood, with the only real difference among us is the monster we must face. In Red's case, the monster is nothing like what he expected, and even when its true face is shown, he's still unsure of himself and his allegiances.
Before Leonora Wakes reminded me of Clive Barker's The Thief of Always in spots, as well as Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, two other magnificent coming-of-age tales with hefty doses of the supernatural. It's a little rough around in the edges in spots, like the moments Red spends at home with his parents, but the family dynamic itself is rough around the edges, so I'm unsure how much I can criticize that at all. What I will say is that for a hundred pages of magic and mystery, the story feels remarkably grand in scope and definitely had me eager to read more stories set in Lee's Division.