An impoverished boy takes a journey through the rural South of the 1930s and ’40s in Cole’s debut novel.
Drew Simmons is the unintended product of his mother Edith’s affair with a married man. Edith never takes to Drew, so she’s happy to relegate his care to the prostitutes in the brothel where they live. The young boy flourishes from the attention and becomes part of the local community. However, when he turns 5, the brothel’s madam says that she can’t house a school-aged child. Edith and Drew are forced to move away to Arkansas, where she has a “sugar daddy” who will pay their expenses. Drew’s quality of life deteriorates quickly, however, as his mother entertains various men for money. During visits from his “uncles,” Drew is forced to wait outside the house and is often left to his own devices for hours on end. When one of the men takes an inappropriate interest in him, the 10-year-old knows that it’s time to leave. Thus begins Drew’s incredible trek across several Southern states, during which he finds himself embroiled in one fantastic catastrophe after another, from gambling rings to pursuit by the Ku Klux Klan. Along the way, he just never seems to catch a break. Cole tells the story in straightforward, concise prose, and it moves at a steady pace, developing Drew’s character as he surmounts the many obstacles he faces. The plot is part Huckleberry Finn and part Stand by Me, showing a boy who knows his own mind and who only needs to find a place where he’s free to be himself. The child’s kind spirit and unpredictable adventures will easily keep readers engaged. Cole also tackles many weighty issues over the course of this nerve-racking tale, ranging from racial prejudice and sexual abuse to untraditional families and the meaning of friendship.
An engaging coming-of-age tale for fans of historical drama.