O’Leary’s debut is a young adult novel about a small town family dealing with the effects of war and tragedy.
Younger brother Cody is the star quarterback and his older brother Boomer is the offensive lineman charged with protecting Cody on the field. Their personalities reflect their on-field duties; Cody is thoughtful and puts pressure on himself while Boomer likes to hit things, not out of anger but for the thrill of contact. The reader can easily picture the pair driving around O’Leary’s old-fashioned Grand Rapids, Ohio, as autumn leaves scuttle across the sidewalk. The author has created likable characters and drawn an engaging portrait of an idyllic American town. The scenery is beautiful, and O’Leary excels at pulling the reader into the setting. The book comes to life in simple scenes such as Cody and his girlfriend Kim playing flashlight tag with their teenage friends in a corn maze. When Boomer makes a life-altering decision to serve with the military in Iraq after his senior year in high school, it’s a natural progression for his character. Indeed, every character fits neatly into the story and plays a part in the larger narrative. O’Leary’s tale is efficient in that way, but this can also make things feel perfunctory; things fall into place a bit too easily, and there are places where the author avoids delving into the conflict in a moment. When Kim visits Boomer in the hospital, the chapter ends just as the two begin a meaningful, telling interaction. A similar situation occurs shortly thereafter when Kim wants to take Boomer’s picture, and he balks and later when Cody tells his brother’s story at a school assembly. O’Leary sets up great moments but stops short of playing them out in the text. These dramatic moments are where the meat of the story is, but the narrative just fills in the action later on. This is part of O’Leary’s approach to a difficult subject, and it helps avoid turning the book into a polemic. But this also robs the narrative of some of its dramatic impact.
A mildly uplifting tale full of pleasant imagery, but could have packed more punch.