It’s 1961 in Cullman, Alabama, and Johnny Cannon has more troubles than any “almost-thirteen-year-old” ought to have.
Johnny is living an extraordinary life for an Alabama country boy. He’s good at hunting, though not so good at school, and he’s an engaging raconteur. In this overstuffed debut, Johnny is friends with African-American preacher’s kid Willie Parkins and actually pitches for Willie’s otherwise all-black baseball team, risking the attention of the Ku Klux Klan. Johnny also accidentally cuts off Martha Macker’s ponytail, pursues a lame moneymaking scheme that ignites racial strife, almost perishes in a tornado and wrecks his father’s truck. And that’s only the first part of Johnny’s saga. When his father builds a military-style radio station in their shed—it turns out he’s involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion—the story becomes a series of madcap and increasingly implausible events (think Dead End in Norvelt on steroids). He encounters Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, pilots an airplane to make an escape, confronts the Klan, lies to a CIA agent and launches himself like Superman off of his roof. Less would have been more here, as Johnny and Willie are well-drawn characters to care about, and Cullman’s a large-enough world for them to live out their stories.
Over-the-top fun for readers who can overlook the implausibilities. (Historical action. 9-14)