I loved Recovery Road and was bored by The New Rules of High School. Happily, Nelson's latest, The Prince of Venice Beach, falls into the love category. It was a great airplane read: a mystery that is light and engaging, with an endearing protagonist.
Cali is a homeless runaway who has somehow found a way to make things work. He's got a treehouse where he crashes, friends with whom he can play basketball, and a boardwalk where he can skateboard all day. When private investigators and the police begin asking him to help find missing people, Cali thinks he has found his calling. Since he knows everyone in Venice Beach, it's an easy job. But when he starts to learn the repercussions of finding people who are hiding on purpose, he starts to question if he's doing the right thing.
The major appeal of this novel is in the characterization. Cali has managed to stay sweet in spite of the hardships of life as a runaway. Critics could argue that Nelson sugarcoats the life of a homeless teenager, but I wasn't reading the book to learn about that. I enjoyed solving the mysteries of the missing people alongside Cali and watching how he and his friends looked out for each other. While definitely not as wacky or out there, The Prince of Venice Beach has a touch of Weetzie Bat to it, with its offbeat characters and obvious love for California. Fans of Francesca Lia Block's work might enjoy this, too.
Rather Be Reading has done a fun gift pack with items from the book. It's definitely worth checking out after you finish the book (to avoid any spoilers).