Fifteen-year-old Andy Lerner, whose knowledge of 1950s popular culture knows no bounds, gets lessons in Algebra, family history, love and exercise during the tumultuous summer before high school.
Andy has a few problems. He failed ninth-grade algebra and now faces a summer of tutoring and classes. He is evicted from his bedroom when his Grandma Celia dies suddenly and his great-grandfather, Grandpa Simon, comes to live with him, his brother Marty–who he has to share a room with–and his mother. Three bullies give him a mortifying beating and, oh yes, he’s in love with Marty’s girlfriend. Life is hard, but Andy is a smart kid with a big heart, and as his elderly math tutor explains, all problems have solutions. Gordon displays considerable wit along with charged emotional drama, mostly through his adroit use of dialogue. Characters spar, snap, warn, declare love, declare war and make peace with entertaining precision. Readers will be familiar with this plot–boy comes of age and discovers inner strength. However, the author keeps this tale fresh and smart by centering it on the inexhaustible Andy, who readers will want to both cuff on the head and feed a satisfying meal. A few of the characters fade too much into the background, such as Andy’s mother and even Marty, to a lesser extent. Their absences during most of the summer are inexplicable in the face of Andy’s quest to discover his father’s story. But a few of Andy’s other relationships are stellar examples of perfect literary pitch. For example, Andy and the Lerners’ black servant, Hattie Mae, share familiar intimacy and the quiet awkwardness that starts when boys begin to turn into men. Gordon carefully balances each aspect against each other in a stunning portrait of a rapidly evolving relationship.
A wonderfully written book about growing up.