Monday, July 28, 2014

ARC Review: The Fracking King by James Browning

Title: The Fracking King
Author: James Browning
Published: June 24, 2014 by New Harvest
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Synopsis: A striking debut novel about boarding school, hardcore Scrabble, and fracking—a new kind of environmental novel by an important voice in the debate about fracking in America.

When the tap water at the Hale Boarding School for Boys bursts into flames, people blame fracking. Life at Hale has always been fraught—the swim test consists of being thrown into the pool with wrists and ankles tied, and a boy can be expelled if he and a girl keep fewer than “three feet on the floor.” But the sight of combustible drinking water and the possibility that fracking is making Hale kids sick turn one student into an unlikely hero in the fight to stop the controversial drilling practice.

Winston Crwth, a Scrabble prodigy whose baffling last name rhymes with “truth,” knows what it’s like to be “fractured,” having grown up with his father in Philadelphia and his mother in California. On Winston’s comic journey to the Pennsylvania State Scrabble Championship, where he hopes to win an audience with beauty-queen-turned-governor Linda King LaRue, he matches wits with Thomasina Wodtke-Weir, the headmaster’s prematurely gray daughter and the most popular (read: only) girl at school; the state poet laureate, whose verse consists of copying out dictionary entries and restroom graffiti; and David Dark, son of the CEO of Dark Oil & Gas, the source of Winston’s scholarship money.

The Fracking King is a fantastically inventive debut about rowing crew, using all your tiles, and trying to save the world.

*** I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review in return. This fact has not affected my opinion in any way***

Much like the actual practice of natural gas drilling or fracking, this book had a lot of promise. It seemed interesting, different, and something I would enjoy. But like the execution of fracking it was not as well-executed as I would have hoped and ended up being pretty messy when you get right down to it.

First and foremost I want to say that this is a controversial topic. I live in Pennsylvania where a boom in natural gas drilling aka fracking has created a lot of benefits but also a lot adverse consequences. I try and avoid controversial topics and refrain from being political here on the blog because that's not what this is all about. We all have very different opinions when it comes to these sorts of issues and in polite society (this is polite society right) you don't bring up politics, religion, or anything else that may offend your audience.

But what you have to know about this book is I'm pretty sure it's meant to be a political statement. As a reader intimately  familiar with the issue and the controversy it almost felt like pandering to me. This is definitely a book geared towards those who think that fracking is bad, and want to see every single argument to support their case fictionalized in this story. And it did a damn good job at proving that point. From a sinister gas company with a sinister name throwing money on marketing only, the company's political influence, to people getting sick, people lighting their water on fire, it's all there. It wasn't an uninteresting story and it's a story that I think a lot of people may not know about the issue but it was still very one-sided. My personal politics aside, any time you take a controversial issue and simplify it, something will be missing.

But I requested this book from Netgalley because I liked the sound of the characters, it fit my "geek books" theme with an anti-social Scrabble prodigy so I thought I would give it a try. And despite it's many problems the book's characters were fantastic. The main character and narrator Winston was interesting and likable. I'm a big fan of Scrabble and like Winston have been known to play against myself and annoy people with the fact that I play all these crazy obscure words. But the secondary characters were also really fun and interesting. Maybe because I just read it, or maybe because they both take place in boarding schools, but the characters reminded me a lot of the characters in Looking for Alaska.

But as good as the characters were the plot left me a little to be desired. It wasn't bad it was just a little muddled. Most of the plot points just served to further prove the argument of the problems with fracking and it was just a snapshot of the story before it moved on to the next point or problem to prove. By the end things did come together a little bit and built up to one climax and conclusion. But even that climax felt rushed and wasn't as satisfying as I would have hoped it would be.

On the whole I was a little disappointed with the execution of The Fracking King. It had a lot of promise but for me it didn't live up to it's full potential. If you

I give The Fracking King by James Browning a 6 out of 10

Have you read The Fracking King? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. If you haven't read it, have you read any books that were controversial or meant to be a political statement? Did you enjoy them? Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Seriously, this book puts together loads of things I love. I definitely need to read this! :)

    1. Haha, definitely check it out. I hope you enjoy it a little more than I did.