In this debut coming-of-age novel, a college senior gets on a plane to visit his best friend from boarding school, reminiscing along the way about their time as roommates.
Twenty-one-year-old history major Matt Derby, and firefighter Trey Daniels, 22, aren’t very compelling characters, but this novel, told in flashback, is mostly about their interesting teenage selves—specifically during their sophomore year at the not-quite-top-tier Ashford River School. Narrator Matt, a scholarship student, is a well-grounded if unsophisticated middle-class kid from Buffalo, N.Y. Trey is more knowing, attending his third prep school and hailing from a dysfunctional family with residences in Manhattan; Georgetown; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and the Bahamas. Unlike the other students, Trey doesn’t care about grades, making it to the Ivy League or even his image, which earns him Matt’s admiration. As the plot unfolds, the reader is treated to the usual endearing hijinks: the boys cheat on exams, sneak out to a “mixer” at a nearby girls’ school and carry on a steady trade in cigarettes and porn. It’s all pheromones, sweat and dirty T-shirts at Ashford, and readers may find it vaguely reminiscent of Dead Poets Society, minus the angst. There’s even a tough but kindly rowing coach; Matt and Trey are members of his crew training to compete in a regional race. First-time author Cumbo, a teacher and coach at a residential boys’ high school, knows this subject matter, and when he sticks to it, the dialogue is authentic, the pace fairly brisk and the characters sufficiently developed. When the book strays from school grounds, however, it sometimes loses its footing; the denouement, such as it is, feels pat, and the descriptions can become mired in minutiae, such as a 17-title list of the magazines on sale at an airport stand. However, most of the action recreates the intricate, intense boyhood bonds that will likely engage readers.
An enjoyable read for fans of prep-school drama.