In this sequel to the acclaimed Jim the Boy (2000), Jim Glass—grown up from ten to 17 but still dewy-eyed—falls hard for a classmate and, after Pearl Harbor, enlists in the army.
Earley returns both to Aliceville, the North Carolina mountain hamlet where Jim the Boy was set, and to nostalgia. Jim, a high-school senior, falls hard for classmate Chrissie Steppe, in whose black hair he glimpses—Lord help the teen in love—“infinite depth.” But the larger world encroaches, or at least looms. There’s the specter of race: Chrissie’s half-Cherokee. There’s the uncomfortable fact that she’s unavailable; she’s affianced, against her will, to Bucky Bucklaw, son of the people on whose land Chrissie and her mother are tenants. Bucky has joined the navy, and when he’s martyred at Pearl Harbor and comes home simultaneously a dead body and an undying hero, Jim’s feeling for Chrissie goes from childlike puppy love (especially in a tender role-playing scene early on) to something much more trouble-fraught. Plot devices creak, and Earley shrinks from exploring the racial/ethnic theme, but he manages, with disarming sincerity, to steer through the narrow strait between Treacle and Hokum. Jim is no one-note saint, but Earley persuades us of a genuine decency in him.
A sweet-tempered, mostly successful sequel for those who like their fiction sepia-toned.