Natural Causes by Gary Neil Gupton
The high school sophomore Earl's father dies of natural causes. Friends support the main character in dealing with the loss of his father. The sophomore's best friend Chuck suspects something is amiss; the widow has been seen regularly with the high school basketball coach. The sophomores have been friends since boyhood, building a fort in the piney woods near their neighborhood.
As they smoke a real tobacco cigarette in their fort (the friend prefers e-cigarettes) the fire cherry falls from the cigarette and later starts a fire. As this ensues the father has been found dead by the patio at the home - a broken e-cigarette by the body.
Tragedies come to the sophomore and he gets moral support from his new freshman girlfriend. There is friction between the friend and the coach: Chuck has not been able to make the team. He's a bit clumsy. Earl is the star athlete. Chuck sees the coach with Earl's mom and his suspicions arise. What's he doing there? The coach and Earl's mom have been having an affair for months. Earl's mom, Lila, has addiction and mental health issues. She had accidentally killed a little girl years ago and had a breakdown. Lila had suppressed the memory of the tragedy; she had a baby and named the girl Tina, the same name as the deceased child.
The minister, Rev Arnold, is involved in counseling the family in their time of need. He tries to help Lila with her coping, not realizing she is addicted to e-meds, prescription vaping.
After the memorial service Earl and Chuck take a weekend trip to college to visit Earl's sister Pam. They have new experiences, led by Pam, trying out alcohol (Sangria) and going to a fraternity party. There is trouble due to jealousy from a college friend's ex-boyfriend, and they are arrested. Chuck's parents come bail them out, take them home.
A Detective Brown tries to solve the case, once Chuck raises suspicions that Earl's father may have died of other-than-natural causes. Earl and his girlfriend Philly experience young love, kissing every opportunity. Fun times with them. The coach gets agitated and angry at Chuck and the friends' meddling. Coach ultimately confronts Earl's mom at home alone and threatens her, tells her that he killed her husband to get him out of the way. Coach barges into Philly's house as she prepares dinner alone; he assaults her and she cuts him badly with a sharp kitchen knife. Chuck and coach have a final showdown at the gym, a one-on-one game. Coach collapses from his wounds, but Chuck calls 911, saving the coach's life.
Philly thinks she killed him, but Chuck reassures her. The high schoolers have reinforced their friendship, bonded through adversity in the midst of a slightly futuristic world where e-cigs are the mode of vaping everything from nicotine, to prescription medication, and chemicals to get high or low. The old ways of smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, and even eating organic produce have become illegal. The teenagers experiment, in moderation, with the old ways, not abusing anything or anyone.
Gary Neil Gupton grew up working on his uncle's tobacco farm and growing vegetables in their family garden. He left his rural roots and went to a prestigious college in an old tobacco manufacturing city. Beyond that he explored foreign lands, but mission trips to Guatemala helped him re-discovered what was important. The children of rural Guatemala inspired his first publication, a children's chapter book, Time to Meet Max. Natural Causes is his first novel about adolescents growing up.