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Zack’s Choice: Review


Posted March 31, 2014 by

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Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. Photo by Homer Scarborough

Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. Photo by Homer Scarborough

Harry E. Gilleland, Jr., is the author of several collections of poetry and five books of prose, including A Wandering Warrior, which was released in 2013. Earlier this year, Gilleland published a new book titled Zack’s Choice. A short novel at only 175 pages, the book is a fast-paced study of the consequences of choices.


The forces of evil are threatening to destroy the world, but God’s Chosen One has emerged to defeat them. At least, that is the story Zackary Gresham hears from the young hitchhiker he picks up during a cross-country motorcycle trip. Instead of running for safety, Zack believes Bobby Smith’s story that God has sent Bobby on a mission to steal the Sword of Damascus, a holy relic valued at $300 million. Bobby must secure the sword before the Devil’s minion, Escabar, can use it to open a portal between earth and hell. Zack agrees to help Bobby steal the sword, but before long he learns Bobby is actually Robbie, a girl whose family has already been carried off by Escabar and his helpers.

After the heist, Zack goes on his way, but before long, FBI Agent Sam Escabar arrests him for international theft. Turns out, Robbie is professional thief Darby Fitzgerald, and Escabar is the one who caught her parents and spirited them away to the local prison for their numerous art-related thefts. Obviously scammed, Zack is arrested and imprisoned, but Escabar offers him a deal: help the FBI find Darby and recover the sword, and in return, Zack will regain his freedom. Will Zack’s choice this time lead him into more danger or a chance at redemption?


A strength of Zack’s Choice is Gilleland’s touches of humor. When the FBI first interrogates Zack after his arrest, his parents are shocked that their son could be involved in a crime of this caliber. Incredulously, his mother asks,

Oh…my…God. Are you doing drugs at Yale? Were you high on drugs when you met this desert person?

Later, Zack is told that a plea of insanity will not work, and he replies, “I’m not insane. I’m a sophomore in Pre-Law at Yale, for Christ’s sake.” His lawyer tells him, “That hardly constitutes acceptable proof that you are sane.” Gilleland peppers the novel with several humorous conversations.

Times occur, though, when the dialogue slows down the action of the work. Some details would be better related in short descriptive paragraphs instead of the characters recounting the same events multiple times. For example, when asked why he helped with the theft, Zack tells the story in its entirety on at least three separate occasions.

In a few places, certain phrases or words are repeated in the same sentence, but the author may have been drawing on the idea that teens and young adults are often redundant with their favorite catchphrases. Yet Zack relating that a flock of crows made “such a din of caws” sounds uncharacteristic of someone who had been saying “totally unique” only a few scenes earlier.

Zack’s Choice is a departure from the author’s usual themes and settings, but change is good, and Gilleland is certainly developing as a writer with each new novel he releases.

Zack’s Choice (Kindle Edition)

By (author): Harry Gilleland

Zackery Gresham has his life all planned. His mother is a lawyer; his father is a federal judge; and he is Pre-Law at Yale, with Harvard Law School to follow before he joins his mother’s prestigious law firm. He plans to marry his high school and Yale girlfriend once he graduates from Law School. During a school break Zack takes a once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip through the southern states. In New Mexico he has a chance encounter with a strange hitchhiker. The resulting chaos will bring Zack face-to-face with a choice that could alter his life forever.

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite: 5-stars
Zack’s Choice is an adventure story written by Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. Zack is having a last adventure before going back to Yale for his final year of pre-law studies. His life is planned and set out: a law degree from Harvard and then a career with his mother’s law firm. He’s been touring the Southern states on his Harley on his way home to Portland. While Zack’s parents were not at all enthusiastic about this trip, Zack stood his ground and has been having a great time. Everything changes when he stops to pick up a young hitchhiker in the deserts of New Mexico. The hitchhiker, Bobby, seems aimless and too young to be on his own, so Zack treats him to dinner and shares his motel with him. When Zack wakes up, Bobby is gone, along with Zack’s wallet. Zack calls home for extra cash and continues on his trip, stopping in Las Vegas for a show and some gaming before going home. He’s surprised to find Bobby walking down the street and, on apprehending him, hears a very strange story indeed.
Harry E. Gilleland’s contemporary fiction novel, Zack’s Choice, is a first-rate adventure tale. The plot is fast-paced and very entertaining. Zack is a good boy when the reader first meets him, whose big act of rebellion from somewhat domineering parents is a summer trip on his Harley. He’s already resigned to it being his last big thrill when life interrupts. Bobby’s story is so crazy, yet compelling, that I was taken in as well and began to think Zack’s Choice was another fiction genre altogether. There’s a lot of humor as Zack blithely goes off to school, not fully realizing what he’s done, and a grim peek into the legal machinery the unwary can get enmeshed in. Zack’s Choice is literate, fun, and entirely unpredictable, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.


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