In this raucous coming-of-age fable, a gang of Catholic schoolboys bonds, fights and absorbs tragicomic life lessons amid an urban arcadia.
Kevin Collins is an average tween at Christ the King school on Chicago’s southwest side circa 1960, but the titular municipal green space near his house seems nearly as full of mythic adventure as Sherwood Forest. The woods are an idyllic spot for sports, after-school forays and first kisses, though they also harbor more unsettling things: a tree on which a young boy hanged himself; a frightening nude man; the possibility of a violent ambush. Ranging through the forest with Kevin are his band of buddies, including manic prankster Frankie Malone and born-leader Jackie Leonard, a boy of such preternatural athletic talent, courage, empathy and grace that he’s nothing short of a two-fisted playground saint. Also prowling about are their hated rivals from Vanderkell public school, led by a psychotic bully named Val Prizer with a mysterious grudge against Kevin, and black kids navigating racial tensions as Chicago’s system of neighborhood segregation starts to break down. The author pegs his tale on a loose-jointed, episodic narrative of football and baseball games, aimless jaunts and tremulous encounters between Kevin and his crush, Patty. Much of the book is simply Kevin and his friends hanging out and being boys, a setting rendered with vivid, funny, pitch-perfect atmospherics as the lads razz and wrestle each other, spew profanity, plot moronic japes and ponder the world through a lens of puerile goofiness. (Sample philosophical inquiry: “Malone asks Pete if God could eat the entire human race, blood, guts and all, and not be grossed out.”) Creevy conveys a boyish worldview with rapturous intensity—a single, sublime at-bat can take up three pages—and he can make even the gross seem sweet, while shading in darker uncertainties around the edges. At times his prose can be overwritten and his epiphanies sometimes feel a tad schmaltzy, but he writes with a gusto, humor and conviction that are sure to draw the reader in.
An entertaining yarn brimming with youthful energy.