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The Bandit Kings of Nowhere Park

Children/Young Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Not all bad kids have lost their way; some have found their calling. When two young friends sneak out to explore the Phoenix summer nights, they discover more than they'd ever imagined.

Nowhere Park is a haven for troubled kids. On the first night of summer, magic doorways appear in each of the seven cities of the southwest, and all the bastard boys and wild girls come running to answer the call. No adults, no police, no laws can follow them through. 

There are only a few rules to the Park, and the first is to obey the king. Legend has it that anyone who breaks the rules will be cut down by the Snipes—huge scorpion creatures with sword-like claws. The boys have no intention of meeting them, but when they run afoul of Nowhere’s cruel, new king, they have to decide which legends they believe, and which are most likely to kill them. 


No one had ever just stumbled across Nowhere Park before.

Bogart and Holliday weren’t even looking for trouble when they found the entrance. They were just trying to pass the time during summer vacation, and stay away from home. The two friends found the entrance by accident — but nothing’s accidental when wayward souls find their way to Nowhere Park.

In his newest urban fantasy novel, The Bandit Kings of Nowhere Park, author Jonas Samuelle transports the reader to Phoenix, AZ. Every summer, a pathway opens to Nowhere Park, a liminal place connecting the seven biggest cities of the American Southwest. The park is only open to teen delinquents, and serves as a sanctuary from the rules and restrictions of society.

Every year, Nowhere Park becomes one huge summer-long party of booze, drugs, and lawlessness. As new recruits, Bogart and Holliday are expected to pay their dues by robbing liquor stores and bringing the alcohol to Nowhere Park as tribute to the king. As they hone their skills and pull raid after raid, the two feel like they’ve finally found a place they belong. In the outside world, Bogart and Holliday are seen as nothing more than troubled teens. In Nowhere Park, they’re valued for their cunning and ferocity — the same traits that brand them as delinquents back in Phoenix. 

The book doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh reality of life for troubled teens. Domestic violence, substance abuse, and police corruption are all discussed in no uncertain terms. Bogart and Holliday have both experienced their fair share of hardships, and rely on Nowhere Park as an escape from their struggles in the outside world.

In the park, disadvantaged teens can band together, where they’d otherwise be vilified for their troubles. When the schools punish them for breaking the rules, the kids of Nowhere Park go where the law can’t touch them.

The book’s tone is reminiscent of outlaw stories from the Old West. The characters pull countless heists throughout the novel, following in the footsteps of Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday.


Samuelle is an Arizona resident, so it’s no surprise that he captures the environment so effortlessly. The descriptions of Phoenix are so evocative, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve been transported to the cool, arid desert night.

The setting of the novel also entwines seamlessly with the fantasy elements. Samuelle adds elements of the mythology of the American Southwest into the story, as well as legends of his own creation.

The magic of Nowhere Park is captivating but mysterious. Bogart says it best as he struggles to uncover its origins: “It was a beautiful thing indeed, but my mind was restless. Since our first night, the mystery of the Park had been hooked into my head. The Park, the Snipes, the king, what was it all? Where’d it come from? What was the purpose? I was a fish on a reel … I had to know.”

As Bogart and Holliday spend more time in the park, the two discover that things hang in a delicate balance. Nowhere Park is a hideaway from the laws of normal society — but anyone caught breaking the king’s laws is in serious danger. When Bogart and Holliday clash heads with the tyrannical new king, they’re forced to confront the fact that their safe haven might not be so safe after all.

“Life’s not fair,” the residents of Nowhere Park repeat often, probably referring to life outside the park. But maybe inside as well.

Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

Two restless teens discover a magical but dangerous paradise for delinquents in this YA fantasy novel.

Holliday Ringo O’Raff and the story’s initially unnamed narrator (later nicknamed “Bogart”) are both 14 and have been best friends for several years, having grown up in harsh circumstances in North Phoenix: “our insides were knives. We hungered for something intangible.” That something appears late one summer night when the friends happen upon a portal to another reality: Nowhere Park, a sort of Never-Never Land for punk kids with booze, drugs, skateboarding, and treehouses. After a bloody initiation, the boys discover that they have a gift for theft, and they become part of a gang, or “suit” in Nowhere Park, called the Bandits; other suits include the Brains, Bashers, and Creeps. Supernatural terrors are another facet of this new world, and Holliday and Bogart must face them when they’re targeted by the park’s new king—an ordeal that changes them forever. Samuelle, whose first novel was the magical-realist The Jovian Spark (2015), offers a compelling coming-of-age story like no other. The narrator’s voice is literary, even luminous, but also authentically hardscrabble; Holliday, for example, is described as having “a solid layer of tightly-wrapped sinew over bones made of used car parts and bad intentions.” The story embraces the boys’ outsider perspective as an honest stance in a corrupt world while unblinkingly revealing the park’s hardships, treacheries, and terrors—a world where the boys find purpose but also loss. Early on, Bogart sees his future as “full of scared nights and wild parties and near-deaths and blood oaths and broken windows and bad promises and maybe an early grave.” By the novel’s end, he glimpses other possibilities for himself, which would have been impossible if he hadn’t been shaped by his experience in Nowhere Park.

A gripping and fiercely moving tale with a rough magic all its own.

Audiobook coming in October 2020

The Bandit Kings of Nowhere Park will be available by audiobook in October of this year. The narrator is actor Sam Pearson.