A debut novel encapsulates American traditions, bringing New York and immigrant stories together in that often overlooked part of the metropolis, the Bronx.
How do you fit in as an uncertain young man in a country going through uncertain times? It’s a question that haunts many and lies at the core of this story. But it’s even more relevant to Joey, who begins his American experience living on the outside looking in. His first years after his family emigrates from Italy are lonely, but survival leads to new opportunities, and the clan moves to the Bronx in the 1960s, putting Joey among relatives, friends, and his own people in the United States for the first time. But while the support and leadership of his cousin Spike and the rest of the local gang open up the world to Joey, they’re not enough to keep him from feeling like an outsider. There are times when he acts like one of the gang, chasing girls, dodging the dangers of the city, and having the madcap adolescent adventures he’s dreamed of. But too often he’s overcome by a sense that he doesn’t quite belong and that some terrible upheaval is coming. Case in point: the enigma of Rudy Kazoody, a figure who seems to represent Joey’s hopes, his terrors, and the sense of cultural shift and shock that pervades the boys’ corner of the city simultaneously. But for all that, and the fact that Kazoody only comes up in times of anguish, the other boys won’t tell Joey a thing about him. While Freda’s novel takes some expected turns, weaving in the love and loss that accompany any coming-of-age yarn, there’s more to this work than just those tropes. The mystery of Kazoody gets at a unique piece of immigrant experiences: the confusion, isolation, and even despair that come with growing up between two worlds. This narrative is only furthered by the tumultuous backdrop of the ’60s, with war and cultural change informing the boys’ trajectories. Brought to life by Joey’s complex narrative voice, the story cuts to the heart of America.
With complexity, honesty, and, above all, a sense of home, this book delivers a striking tale of a young émigré in the turbulent ’60s.