Agam’s (The Agili Wellness Routine, 2004) novel explores childhood, friendship and mentorship, from the perspective of a young California boy.
Dexter stands over the fresh grave of his grandfather as he holds his son’s hand, and with subtlety and deft narrative care, the story glides into Dexter’s past and why his grandfather’s death deserves to open this small but engaging tale. Though the grown man is the narrator, his voice slyly takes on the earnest, open emotionalism of his younger self, a boy who grew up relying on his grandfather and grandmother to raise him. This need for mentorship in his youth made Dexter prime picking for charismatic and dangerous Reeve, a beautifully wild boy from the farmland who recruits the diminutive Dexter into a special “tag-in-the-dark club” with other schoolmates. Reeve has concocted a game of Foxes and Chickens that’s terrifying and thrilling for the young boys as they sneak into the school and enact the fantastic trials the game demands. Hazards abound, and each member has a task to win the game. Though the rules are somewhat Byzantine, they’re appropriately dissonant; only the young minds of children in the rapture of fantasy could make so much out of darkness. But it’s not all fun and games: Jealousies and power struggles abound. Reeve, like all charismatic leaders, runs the club not so much for pure delight but the maintenance of his own power and security. His home life is poisoned by his father’s alcoholism and sadness. Ostensibly, the story seems to be about Dexter and Reeve’s negative form of mentorship, but a positive parallel thread runs throughout, as Dexter relates the entire story to his then-living grandfather. With subtly crafted prose, this concise, touching story probes psychology and miniature dramas that can sometimes distract from the central relationship and, because of so much setup, too often telegraph what comes next. Nevertheless, Dexter is so likable and his motivations so clearly outlined, readers will be happily engaged both with Dexter the boy and the man he becomes.
A modest, charming bildungsroman that should satisfy readers of all ages.