A 12-year-old boy experiences the magic of first love while coping with serious family problems in this debut novel.
Joey Norton is growing up in San Diego in 1962, the height of the Leave It to Beaver era, but his home life includes its share of unconventional elements. His mother parades around the house nude, sometimes getting a little too close to Joey, which infuriates his sister. For his part, Joey sneaks out of the house at night to spy on a neighborhood girl through her bedroom window. He gets beaten up by her brother over the voyeurism, but that fails to deter him from playing at being a peeping Tom on a semiregular basis. The Nortons aren’t stereotypical free-spirited Southern Californians, though, but Southern Baptists, originally from Texas. On a trip to Texas to visit his grandmother, Joey meets Gloria, a second cousin, and their new relationship leaves him feeling pangs of desire and intense emotion: “It was too much goodness and beauty and stimulation and joy and the fulfillment of every dream of what having a girlfriend might mean.” Returning home, Joey pitches for the Little League baseball team, fends off his busybody mother and needling sister, and lives to secretly call Gloria at night. His dad, a bastion of stability and provider of advice, doesn’t have a great relationship with his wife, and an unexplained emergency that he rushes out to one night ends up being a fateful evening in devastating ways. Told from an adult perspective, the voice that Galyean gives Joey is at once romantic, nostalgic, self-effacing, and angry. The fairly adult subject matter is at times frank and disturbing, but the world the author creates for Joey is always rich with emotion and detail. From the stunningly confident older sister, Debbie, to the slamming front door at the grandmother’s house, the people and places are instantly familiar and exist in a complex, difficult world full of pain, insight, and beauty. The novel is somewhat overwritten; a slimmer version would have strengthened the work without undermining its many intricacies.
A touching coming-of-age story about a boy who has to deal with more troubles than any kid should.