Kearney’s coming-of-age story about an overachieving only child growing up in rural Pennsylvania during the late 1950s.
We follow main character Joey Garden through his childhood and adolescence. With a palpable 1950s nostalgia, the narrator describes Joey and his friends wandering the streets and backwoods of his hometown looking for ways to keep busy. The reader meets a large cast who will become relevant to Joey’s future. Kearney shows Joey inching toward his teenage years, and the focus of Joey’s explorations moves from the great outdoors to the more complicated spaces of school classrooms, gymnasiums, and girls’ bedrooms. Determining just where he fits in turns out to be a struggle. As an extremely bright student and an exceptional athlete, he tires of maintaining the status quo. He begins acting out, pushing the buttons of teachers, friends, and family. After years of hard work, his dedication to personal success begins to falter for reasons he doesn’t understand. Just as he seems lost, Joey learns shocking family secrets that will either save or undo him. Kearney sketches many rich period details, including well-rendered accounts of basketball games, immersing the reader in small-town 1950s America. If readers choose to skim the lengthy sections of sportscasting in the latter half of the novel, this decision will not detract from the novel’s ability to satisfy. With or without the sports stats, readers can enjoy the story of Joey’s complex relationships with his teammates, his fans, his family, and himself.
A quirky, well-balanced consideration of one boy’s consciousness on the winding path to adulthood.