In this coming-of-age adventure, a survivor rises from the destruction of post-Katrina New Orleans to not just rebuild his life, but find and claim his heritage.
A name like Thelonious Monk DeCay might present overwhelming expectations for any 9-year-old, but this New Orleans scion of music royalty is held to a higher standard, and he’s expected to rise to it. Richards (Too Blue to Fly, 2011 etc.) has created a young, resilient mixed-race hero who can endure more lumps than the average adult. Raised by a firm but loving grandmother in the doomed 9th Ward, Monk negotiates the gang-plagued streets to the colorful French Quarter, where he and pal Percy don ragamuffin clothing and shoes with bottle caps glued to the soles as they busk for tourists. Monk’s vocalist mother is long dead from an overdose, and he’s saving his money to one day search for his missing father, the renowned jazz pianist Dean “Tooth” DeCay. Few seem to want to remember DeCay, and those that do are suspiciously reticent. Richards is sly with posing mysteries to keep readers hanging and pages turning, and they’re answered just as the narrative requires them. Monk has a mentor in flamboyant bachelor Quinton Toussaint, a “toucan in turquoise” who’s a local scholar, raconteur and music tastemaker. A friend of DeCay’s, Toussaint advises Monk in music and family history. Toussaint’s lively orations—“as though [he’s] about to sing every sentence”—keep readers informed without becoming pedantic, but after Hurricane Katrina devastates the city, Monk watches as friends and family die or go missing. A refugee from his flooded neighborhood, Monk unites with the mysterious and hermetic Jon Latour, the “ghost of Vieux Carré,” with whom he burgles houses to eat. Chased by the police and accused of murder, Monk must survive in a city awash in crime and chaos until a desperate call from the Louisiana State Penitentiary changes everything.
A bittersweet, sobering urban adventure story of realistic love and redemption.