"Raucous adventure abounds in Antil’s (The Long Stem Is in the Lobby, 2013 etc.) heartfelt coming-of-age novel set in upstate New York during the 1950s. Fans of Antil’s The Pompey Hollow Book Club (2011) will be eager to learn more about the misadventures of their favorite club members in this colorful follow-up novel. Fast-paced and action-packed, the novel follows young Jerry and his friends as they get their first jobs, rescue orphans and down-on-their-luck polio victims, and plan their biggest caper yet to catch a pair of criminals. ...As the kids of the surrounding communities all come together to protect their towns, a beautiful sense of brotherhood emerges; it’s an uplifting examination of what community really means. History buffs will also appreciate the many references to WWII, Gen. Eisenhower and decoy missions in England before D-day. ...it’s a delightful read. A beautiful balance of action and warmth."– Kirkus Reviews
In two intersecting tales set in Louisiana, an elderly black veteran kills his attacker and faces a murder trial while his Cajun French best friend tries to discover the truth about the mother he never knew.
Gabriel Jordan, an “aging army captain” and “veteran of Korea and Vietnam,” is threatened by a young white man, Kenneth Bauer, at a Walmart in New Orleans, and as a result buys a cane for a future act of self-defense. Later, Kenneth hunts the vet down and threatens him with a knife, and Gabe beats him to death with that cane. He’s arrested for second-degree murder, a charge that could stick, especially because the knife is nowhere to be found. And Gabe, despite his advanced age, is known to be an “experienced, highly trained, battle-savvy army captain.” Gabe is less haunted by the prospect of prison time than he is by the enormity of what’s he done, a poignant moral nuance characteristic of this thoughtful drama: “Let me work it out in my mind….I’m an old man. I need to make it right in my head and with God.” Meanwhile, his best friend, Boudreau Clemont “Peck” Finch—who overcomes illiteracy and gets accepted into college in under a year’s time—decides he needs to track down his real mother, a woman who remains a mystery to him. But as his relationship with his girlfriend, Millie, becomes ever more serious, he worries that she won’t be able to accept his inauspicious beginnings. He travels to the Louisiana swamps that he fled when he was only 9 years old, the victim of morbidly dark abuse. Antil’s (One More Last Dance, 2017, etc.) touching sequel draws heavily from the plot established in the first novel, but remains an “entirely self-contained story.” The author palpably re-creates the electrifying energy of New Orleans, a combination of old-world merriment and lurking danger (“The velvet sax was an offer of promise and calm for the old man, jazz aficionado, dancer, and troubled soul”). Further, Peck is a memorable character—surprisingly deep and boyishly innocent simultaneously, he provides both comic levity and some of the book’s most moving moments.
An affecting novel that richly captures the inimitable spirit of Louisiana.
A boy learns important lessons about prejudice, racism, and courage in post-World War II America in a fictional tale that combines autobiographical elements and the supernatural.
The fourth book in Antil’s (Mary Crane, 2015, etc.) Pompey Hollow Book Club series finds Jerry in 1953, 13 years old and finally settled into the rural community of Delphi Falls, where his family moved four years earlier. Jerry’s father, Big Mike, who owns the town bakery, is disturbed by the ugly signs of prejudice he sees in his upstate New York town. He’s especially worried when Jerry, his brother, Dick, and their mother travel to segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, to help Jerry’s aunt Mary with the birth of her baby. Although WWII ended eight years earlier, it looms large in the narrative, just as it does in the lives of the children who grew up during the early 1940s and the adults still feeling the war’s repercussions. In Little Rock, Jerry learns of numerous injustices, large and small, that arise from racial prejudice, from separate water fountains to discrimination in the military. His guardian angel, Charlie, who first appeared in the second volume of the series, The Book of Charlie (2013), calls Jerry into action to help Anna Kristina, a pregnant African-American girl who’s in danger from the prominent white man who raped her. With the aid of Charlie, two other angels, and a host of other supporters, including Jerry’s war hero uncle and the author Ernest Hemingway, Jerry strives to rescue Anna Kristina and even has a thrilling ride in a B-25 bomber. Antil covers important thematic ground in a narrative in which cooperation and understanding counter segregation, and most of the white characters are as deeply concerned about racism as the characters of color are. As this version of “Papa” Hemingway says, “Racism isn’t about color, Jerry, it’s about…not wanting to know about or care about other cultures.” Some of the book’s explanations are simplistic, and there are occasional anachronisms (such as when a Little Rock churchgoer refers to the rapist who fathered Anna Kristina’s child as a “baby daddy”). But overall, there’s much positive food for thought here, couched in an engaging adventure tale.
A complex coming-of-age story that evokes the enduring effects of war and the latter days of the Jim Crow system.
Raucous adventure abounds in Antil’s (The Long Stem Is in the Lobby, 2013 etc.) heartfelt coming-of-age novel set in upstate New York during the 1950s.
Fans of Antil’s The Pompey Hollow Book Club (2011) will be eager to learn more about the misadventures of their favorite club members in this colorful follow-up novel. It’s the summer before their freshman year of high school, a time when they begin to leave childhood behind but are nonetheless itching for adventure as much as ever. The story is told from the perspective of ghostly Ole Charlie, a kindly neighbor who has passed and is now the group’s guardian angel. Fast-paced and action-packed, the novel follows young Jerry and his friends as they get their first jobs, rescue orphans and down-on-their-luck polio victims, and plan their biggest caper yet to catch a pair of criminals. Though the intrigue surrounding the two escaped criminals and the subsequent plan to flush them out are what pushes the novel forward, its heartbeat lies in the quiet moments that reveal the character of this close-knit community. Following World War II, which forever changed their lives, these communities have emerged stronger than ever. The people work together, care for each other’s kids, rally behind perfect strangers with abounding kindness and believe in the basic good in each person. As the kids of the surrounding communities all come together to protect their towns, a beautiful sense of brotherhood emerges; it’s an uplifting examination of what community really means. History buffs will also appreciate the many referencesto WWII, Gen. Eisenhower and decoy missions in England before D-day. Not without its faults, the novel is sometimes difficult to read. Readers will appreciate the unique language of the time period, but some sentences, especially in opening chapters, are unusually long and need to be read several times for clarity. Nevertheless, it’s a delightful read.
A beautiful balance of action and warmth.
A group of kids in rural upstate New York have a series of adventures in the years following World War II.
Young Jerry Antil has always been a city boy, so when he and his family—including his mother, his baker father Big Mike and his brothers Mike and Dick—move from the town of Cortland, N.Y., to the country in 1948, he knew he’d have to make some adjustments. Luckily Jerry, like others who grew up during World War II, is a resourceful kid who knows how to make the best of any situation. And thanks to his father, Jerry knows that if you pay attention there’s plenty of adventure to be had no matter where you are. He and a group of likeminded kids form the Pompey Hollow Book Club, and before long they are finding excitement everywhere, whether they’re looking for a group of thieves who have been breaking into local businesses or trying to save a gaggle of innocent poultry from a grisly end on the Thanksgiving table. Although structured as a series of discrete stories, the flow of the narrative feels more like a novel than a collection of short stories. The characters are well developed—especially the kids—and the prose is plain but competent. The humor is more goofy than witty, but it will be a hard-hearted reader who won’t chuckle at least once. The novel occasionally comes across as a little saccharine, but it feels honest and heartfelt all the same. The most affecting passages describe Jerry’s relationship with his extraordinary father, who instills in him a strong sense of decency, as well as a love for adventure. The author makes a compelling point by stressing the idea that growing up in wartime had a profound effect on the outlook and attitudes of the children, among other things allowing them to make the most of any situation.
A heartfelt story about growing up in the shadow of World War II.
Antil’s (The Pompey Hollow Book Club, 2011, etc.) debut memoir tells of his charting a path as a young man in advertising and marketing in 1960s America.
When readers first meet Antil, he’s a college basketball player on scholarship at Xavier University in 1959. After a difficult breakup and a troubling spat with his basketball coach, Antil decides to go down his own path, and his persistence and nerve serve him well as he becomes increasingly successful in advertising and marketing. Though the memoir provides readers with some salient details of a bygone era, from the trivialities of outdated office technology to more serious reflections on the Jim Crow South, the past tends to be seen through rose-tinted glasses. A sense of hokey nostalgia pervades the book, both historically and personally, and most of the supporting characters are cast in a fond, even hagiographic light. Antil’s professional successes are presented so cheerfully that it’s hard to worry about anything turning out less than swell. The difficult, penetrative self-reflection present in the best memoirs is disappointingly absent here, and the structure of the book reflects this problem: Instead of focusing on any one event or theme to provide his story with a central conflict and overarching direction, Antil has written a comprehensive history of 14 years of his life. Amid the abundance of detail and frequently overwrought prose, as well as black-and-white photos and newspaper clippings from the era, certain stronger anecdotes lose their punch when surrounded by so much chaff.
An unfocused memoir that romanticizes the business world of the ’60s, at the expense of personal insight.
Antil’s (The Book of Charlie, 2016, etc.) autobiographical short story collection features tales of family Christmases from his youth and a romance that stands the test of time.
In the opening of the titular love story, Jerry, rather appropriately, is enamored. It’s 1966, and the 20-something is a groomsman for a friend’s Long Island wedding. He catches a glimpse of one of the bridesmaids—Pamela, as it turns out—and is immediately smitten. The nearly 7-foot-tall groomsman is coupled with Pamela, the tallest of the women, for the ceremony, and they even get caught in a photo together with a passing Robert F. Kennedy. But after the wedding, Pamela heads back to Paris, where she works as a model. Ten years pass, and Jerry has the opportunity to spend an evening with Pamela, an unforgettable encounter before the two reunite decades later. Antil’s tale grows more endearing as the couple’s romance becomes more familiar. Jerry, for example, initially idolizes Pamela, whose modeling days were spent mingling with celebrities, but as he gets to know her (favorite movies and books), it’s an unquestionably strong connection between real people. The remaining trio of tales in the collection delves further back into Antil’s history, each revolving around Christmas with his family. The hilarious “Richard Leaves the Choir Breathless” spotlights 6-year-old Jerry’s older brother, Dick, who’s in trouble so often at Roman Catholic school he’s mastered the art of sleeping while standing in the corner. His performance for the school’s Christmas pageant is, not surprisingly, a showstopper. “Postwar Shortages and Shortfalls” is likewise amusing when a holiday gift for the children’s mother leads to a mishap at a bank that may traumatize the family with embarrassment. The book ends with “A Cazenovia Christmas Past,” the gloomiest of the bunch. In it, preteen Jerry and his siblings are shocked when their father is diagnosed with tuberculosis and leaves the family to stay at a sanatorium. Not sure when his dad will return, if at all, Jerry may miss out on the joy of the childhood he’s experiencing, including a summer job and young love with the new girl at school, Judy.
Winsome stories of love and unbreakable bonds, notwithstanding tragedy or years of separation.