In this coming-of-age novel, a nice Southern boy meets a brilliant young girl from New York City and finds a passion for the arts.
In his warm, enjoyable debut, Aditon explores the formative experiences of adolescence and young romance. The novel follows Jimmy Owens, an all-American boy living in the small Southern town of Fauberg, from childhood to graduate school. His father rises to local prominence when he serves as the foreman on a prestigious construction project for the Bannings, a wealthy family that stays on a large, local estate while visiting from New York. The Bannings and the Owenses become friends despite their employer/employee relationship. Jimmy eventually meets Clare, the youngest member of the Banning clan, three years younger than him. She’s a brilliant child, but her poor health requires that she spend most of her time inside her family’s mansion. Jimmy begins to visit Clare on a regular basis, first out of obligation but soon out of burgeoning love, as he finds himself stunned by her intelligence and easy laughter. Although life in Fauberg has taught him plenty about Baptist Christianity and baseball, he’s at a loss in Clare’s high-culture world. His initial discomfort gives way to an earnest enthusiasm, however, and he finds himself struggling to balance his friendship with Clare with Fauberg’s hometown values and his father’s heteronormative expectations. The challenge is exacerbated by Clare’s declining health due to a mysterious, inherited condition. The novel’s plot is often predictable, and the author foreshadows events to the point of excess. Specifically, Aditon has a curious tendency to load Jimmy’s narration with ominous phrases such as, “as I found out so much later.” Such lines generate an excessive sense of suspense that never wholly pays off. Still, this doesn’t detract from Fauberg’s authentic, small-town feel or Clare’s undeniable charm. Fans of J.D. Salinger will particularly enjoy the Bannings, who resemble the Glass family with their collection of precocious children, New York savoir-faire, and casual interest in Eastern religion. Overall, although the central story here is far from new, Aditon successfully captures his characters’ youthful spirit.
An often satisfying, if occasionally trite, tale of personal discovery.