Hermy’s parents’ divorce, along with the upheaval of wartime, has left him feeling adrift and vulnerable. Over the past few years, he’s lived in a house with his aunt and a violent step-uncle with post-traumatic stress disorder; in a Boise, Idaho, ballpark with his father, who sunbathed naked on the field; with the Schultzes, whose son Karl was relentlessly cruel; and currently with the Williams family. There he shares a room with the youngest son, Sonny, which is full of canaries bred by Mrs. Williams, and he wakes every day surrounded by song. Although the Williamses are kind, he misses his father and mother, and he’s tormented by bad memories, such as Karl burning out the eyes of his pet turtle with a magnifying glass, and his step-uncle shooting his Japanese-American friend, Tom. All these experiences entwine through the prose, as the boy’s past intrudes on his present, and the novel shifts back and forth rapidly in time. The Casebeers’ prose is solid, even beautiful at the sentence level, with chains of descriptors: “Enormous with wild carrot-orange hair, lids heavy over dim and drowsing brown eyes, Gladys Williams sprawled at the large rectangular table.” Unfortunately, its use of multiple complex sentences in a row often lessens their impact. Overall, the book’s stream-of-consciousness prose gives it a dreamlike quality, but it often becomes confusing. The authors attempt to ease the transitions by putting the flashbacks in italics; however, the flashbacks’ frequency makes the book difficult to follow.
An ambitious, literary coming-of-age tale that aims high, and almost reaches its goals.