In Bari’s debut coming-of-age tale, a teenage boy has many new experiences during the summer of 1969.
Thirteen-year-old Tim isn’t happy about relocating again. Because his alcoholic mother hasn’t been paying the rent, they have to move—in the middle of the night—to a trailer park in Glen Cove, Maine. Only two weeks remain in the academic year, but it’s enough time for Tim to catch the attention of Moosie and his fellow bullies at his new school. They mock him for being poor, beat him up, and promise they’ll see him at school next year. At home, Tim’s mother largely neglects him but also explicitly blames him for his father’s abandoning the family. However, the summer does have its perks. Tim begins regularly babysitting the 1-year-old son of his 21-year-old neighbor, Dorothy; the teen is almost immediately smitten with the young woman. Another recent arrival in the trailer park is Darrell, a teen who reminds Tim of Elvis Presley, resulting in a new nickname. The two boys frequently hang out at Dorothy’s or the local pizza joint. Over the summer, Tim dabbles in a variety of new activities, including smoking, drinking, shoplifting issues of Playboy, and listening to rock music; he repeatedly plays the Beatles’ single “The Ballad of John and Yoko” on the pizza place’s jukebox, as his mother bans it from their home for its lyrics’ presumed blasphemy. Once school starts, Moosie and his cronies reset their sights on Tim, but now the teen has the imposing and protective “Elvis” to back him up. However, not all the events of 1969 are good ones—as when Moosie takes full advantage of the few instances when Elvis isn’t by Tim’s side.
Bari’s novel offers an absorbing but often dour story. The scenes inside Tim’s mobile home are bleak—the protagonist has to clean up his mother’s vomit—and those at school are incessantly tense, because Moosie is often waiting to strike whenever Tim is vulnerable. But a strong sense of nostalgia helps alleviate the book’s darker moments, as when Tim, as a paperboy, goes door-to-door to collect money from subscribers, some of whom actively avoid paying him. The boy also listens to copious rock tracks that were popular in 1969, although he’s primarily fixated on those by the Beatles. At another point, he and Elvis watch Easy Rider on the big screen, and when Tim emulates the movie by sewing an American flag on the back of his shirt, he inadvertently inspires anger. The author engagingly injects grim humor into the proceedings with occasionally cheeky descriptions, as when Tim describes his mother’s “high-heeled wobble down the hall to the bathroom.” There are a couple of plot turns in the latter half that are truly startling, but Tim’s overall character arc is consistent: He may be skinny, and the target of bullies, but he slowly becomes a stronger person—even if he can’t see it, himself.
An immersive, nostalgic, and sometimes-gloomy look at adolescence.