An intense, uplifting third novel from Greco (Tommy the Quarterback, 2012, etc.) that maps an unlikely friendship as it confronts adulthood, prejudice and the mistreatment of the mentally ill.
Sandy Morelli, an Italian Catholic boy with a hot temper and a big heart, grows up in the poor part of 1950s Youngstown, Ohio. He and his neighbor Rigley Potter develop a close friendship, pretending to be pirates, exploring the wilderness, playing football and baseball, and always sticking together. Some kids tease Sandy for hanging out with a “hillbilly,” but it doesn’t bother him. As he and Rigley grow older, they attend different high schools and Sandy gets involved with football, but they still manage to spend time together on the weekends. Sandy slowly starts to realize, however, that Rigley is in fact mentally challenged. He tries to help his friend assimilate into mainstream young-adult life, even getting him a job as a golf caddy, only to see others brutally bully and tease him. The friends grow apart when Sandy leaves Youngstown to join the military, but they reunite several years later when Sandy gets a job at Wyandotte State Hospital. Throughout the novel, Greco never shies away from moments of brutal intensity, filtering them through Sandy’s tough yet empathetic voice. The author depicts Rigley as childish, but Sandy never patronizes him, as he understands Rigley’s simple, whimsical intellect. The book indicates the passing of time with subtle but accurate regional slang and hints of pop culture, and Greco’s careful pacing of Sandy’s gradual realization of his friend’s challenges will break readers’ hearts. The author takes on heavy, difficult subject matter here but always brings the story back to its foundation: the unbreakable bond between childhood friends.
A unique, emotional novel about lifelong companionship and brutal social injustice.