The loss of a friend from a group of childhood companions brings to light what has been hidden for 30 years.
Sally is Mikey’s first friend. Each living in a run-down neighborhood with single parents, they find in each other comfort and kindness. The rest of the neighborhood kids—Alice, Sam, Lynn, and Jimmy—join with the twosome in a group of playmates whose relationships will last a lifetime. They call themselves The Gunners, after the name on the mailbox outside the abandoned home that becomes their hideout. There, they “invented jokes and games and secret languages, made plans, made trouble, bad-mouthed their parents, played cards, gambled, told stories, plotted against bullies, bickered, made up, luxuriated in boredom, and dreamed of the lives they would one day live, far from Lackawanna.” Their group goes merrily on—growing up, learning more of the world, falling in love, drinking, exchanging secrets—until, all of sudden when they are 16, Sally dissociates from her friends completely, refusing to speak to them, avoiding their calls and efforts to engage. Fifteen years later, the group is reunited at Sally’s funeral. Mikey, who is suffering from early-onset macular degeneration, is the only one who never left Lackawanna, and he is at once happy to be with his friends once more and devastated by the second loss of Sally. Each member of the group is convinced it is his or her fault that Sally left them, both times. Each has changed greatly over the years and is grappling with where to go next. When startling secrets are revealed, Mikey has another layer of self-exploration and sadness to sift through. Kauffman (Another Place You’ve Never Been, 2017) has created vivid and compelling characters struggling with what is in some ways the most universal dilemma: how to grow up. Mikey especially is mature and thoughtful but not at all precious; and the boisterous, hilarious Alice is charming despite her best efforts to behave otherwise. In fluid prose, Kauffman lays bare the lessons of youth and truth.
A layered and loving bildungsroman of friendship.