Lapoma’s (The Summer of Crud, 2018) novel tells the story of a group of misfit boys navigating adolescence in northern Buffalo, New York.
James Lombardi narrates the story of his childhood, during which he contended with a bullying clan of seventh-graders at his Catholic middle school; an angry, unforgiving father; and a gaggle of siblings. James calls his mental illness “the Darkness”; it manifested as periods of murderous “Evil Thoughts,” disembodied voices, and random violent outbursts. “A war had begun inside my head.” James reflects. “I was nine. I had no idea I was now both superhero and villain.” Still, he managed to remain focused thanks to basketball games, schoolwork, an ambitious newspaper-delivery route, and a series of mind-calming rituals to ensure sleep. He played basketball at Hammond Park with a rebellious group of outcasts that included Gerry, Tony, James, ringleader Ray, and others. They all found common ground on the courts, and as they incrementally matured over the next few years, they experimented with sex and drugs and dreamed of becoming basketball stars. Lapoma’s first-person narrative effectively and evocatively captures James’ frail emotional state as he stumbles through boyhood and his early adult years. The author is wise to incorporate moments of humor into his story, which leavens other parts of the book, such as those that focus on James’ psychologically precarious psyche. He also demonstrates a distinct knack for characterization for both his central players and peripheral ones, such as the local monsignor, who spouts expletives out a rectory window. The description of 13-year-old Luke, known among the kids as the “King of Hammond,” is also skillfully handled. Overall, this is an earnest, hardscrabble story of restless youth, mental illness, and the saving grace of sports-inspired camaraderie.
A compelling work of fiction that successfully captures the anger, frustration, and freedom of kids on the brink of adulthood.