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Posts tagged 'Coming of Age'

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

ButlerHeartsNickolas Butler, author of the very popular Shotgun Lovesongs, sets this tale at Camp Chippewa, a Boy Scout camp in northern Wisconsin.

Nelson, the bugler, is the first boy we meet. He is a small, studious nerd, working hard to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. He is also the object of teasing and ridicule by the other boys. Each morning he arises in his single tent, polishes his bugle, shines his shoes, sharpens the crease in his uniform, and sounds “Reveille”, awakening a camp full of Scouts. Despite the Scout Oath to remain physically strong and mentally awake, often many of the boys are hung over, as is Nelson’s own father who serves as one of the camp’s chaperones. Scoutmaster Wilbur, who runs Chippewa, befriends Nelson, and acts as father figure in place of Nelson’s own ineffective dad. An older, popular boy named Jonathan is Nelson’s only friend at camp, and sticks up for him when he’s taunted by crueler boys. Jonathan and Nelson remain life-long friends in this epic story that spans three generations from the years 1962 to 2022.

After Nelson’s father dies, the boy is sent to military school, then West Point. Ultimately he serves in the elite forces in Vietnam, where he sees horrible things. When he returns home, he finds it hard to find and hold down a job. Eventually he becomes became the Scout Master and Camp Director at Camp Chippewa, and enjoys the solace of living in the remote wilderness year round. However, Scouting and the camp both have changed by this point. There is no longer a bugler to play “Reveille”, so the song is prerecorded. Boys seem glued to their electronic devices, texting each other across the tent. Such traditional badges as orienteering, radio, and stamp collecting are obsolete. But it is still a place where Scouting values are promoted, and it is where Jonathan’s grandson Thomas goes to camp one summer.

The author excels at storytelling, and imbues his writing with North Woods atmosphere and charm. Butler conveys so much emotion on each page; once I started The Hearts of Men, I couldn’t put it down. I recommend this book to both men and women, but perhaps not to young Scouts. There are very mature themes in this novel. I enjoyed The Hearts of Men so much, and I can’t wait to read it again when I prepare it for book discussion.

Nancy Picks  Literary Fiction  Historical Fiction  Contemporary  Coming of Age  Boy Scouts of America  American History

04/07/17
 

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

WoodsonAnother Brooklyn is Woodson’s first novel in 20 years. Best known as an author of children’s and young adult books, she has been the recipient of the Newbery Honor Medal (four times), The Coretta Scott King Award, The National Book Award, and The Caldecott Medal.

Set in the 1970s, Another Brooklyn tells of growing up black in a neighborhood characterized by crime, drug addiction, and white flight. The main character, August, is now 30 and looking back on her childhood. Like the author herself, she has relocated, with her father and brother, to Brooklyn. Her mother did not move with them and this loss resonates throughout the novel.

The writing is highly evocative and the story is told through the eyes of its young narrator. “I watched my brother watch the world,” she writes, “his sharp, too-serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn” (p. 77).

The time frame of the 1970s looms large. There was great social unrest and racial disparity in the country. The specter of Viet Nam hovered ominously. Heroin-addicted vets filled every street corner. August’s uncle, and indirectly, her mother, died as a result of that war. Even her father returned from the war minus two fingers. The whole nation, from the late 60s through the 70s, was irreparably changed.

Sara Picks  Realistic Fiction  New York  Historical Fiction  Coming of Age

09/21/16
 

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Crucet

CrucetLizet Ramirez, the narrator of the novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, details her life during a year of emotional and physical changes for herself and for her family.

Lizet applies secretly to an elite northern school, is accepted, and decides to attend despite the wishes of her family. She enjoys so many of her college experiences - new friends, her first snow, and, eventually, some success in her studies. Lizet (“Liz” to her fellow college students, “El” to her Cuban friends) is the first member of her family to go to college, and she is fortunate to have a scholarship and work-study assistance. However, she does have difficulties with workload and cultural change.

In Miami, Lizet’s Cuban-American family struggles with changes in their lives. Her parents’ divorce, and her mother moves from Hialeah to Little Havana in Miami with Lizet’s older sister, Leidy, who is a young single mother with a new baby. Lizet’s father remains in Hialeah, estranged from the family and struggling financially. Lizet’s mother becomes involved, emotionally and then as a leader, in Madres Para Justicia, a group formed to prevent the deportation of Ariel Hernandez. Ariel is a young boy from Cuba whose mother died fleeing on a raft with him and whose father, still in Cuba, wants him back.

The book focuses on the struggles, worries, and guilt resulting from clashes of cultural and family relationships.  It also details the everyday life of Miami’s Cuban-American community and college life in a small town in upstate New York. Well-written dialogue, as well as realistic characters living through very human situations, make the story hard to put down.

Literary Fiction  Gail's Picks  Family Drama  Cultural Fiction  Contemporary  Coming of Age

08/29/16
 

Jane Hamilton's The Excellent Lombards

HamiltonThe Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton, is a poignant coming of age novel that accurately captures the angst of childhood and adolescence growing up on a 21st century family farm. The novel is told in first person narrative through the eyes of Mary Frances (Frankie) from around age 6 to 16.

The first chapter opens with a scene of haymaking just before a storm touches down on the field. Frankie’s father ignores the angry clouds and ominous signs and works like a man of 20, despite his 50+ years. He is akin to a mythological hero defeating the forces of nature. Later that day at dinner, Frankie remarks on her older brother’s skepticism during the adrenaline-filled adventure:

“You know you believe it,” I beamed to him across the platter of corn. “You know you believe the one pure thing!” …But that night of the hay baling he was reminded of the truth. He knew what we’d always known, that our father could outwit a storm. It was so. It had happened. He knew there was no point, not in anything, if our father wasn’t on hand, quieting the wind; and no point either, if we weren’t there to see it.

Set in Wisconsin, where the author lives on an apple orchard, The Excellent Lombards is a moving depiction of an extended family living on hundreds of acres of land owned by that family for four generations. But bad feelings between the brothers (Frankie’s father and uncle), as well as financial burdens and suburbanization, threaten to put an end to her hopes of inheriting the land.

Sara's Picks  Literary Fiction  Family Drama  Contemporary  Coming of Age

07/01/16
 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

GyasiHomegoing is an absolutely fascinating and wonderfully written first novel by a 26-year-old woman who was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. It is a fictional look, from a different point of view, at a history and people often written about. Homegoing traces two families through several generations, beginning with half-sisters Effia and Esi, born of the same mother, who never know each other.

The novel begins in 1763 in a small village in Ghana. The first chapters are written about each sister; then chapters alternate about the lives of their descendants, through several generations, to the present.

One family remains in Ghana, and one family is transported to the Americas as slaves. While the stories set in the Americas are more familiar to us as readers (slavery in the South, emancipation, and life in Harlem), the African lives have been written about less often. One of the focuses of the novel is the slave trade on the Gold Coast in Ghana and what the Africans contributed to it, tribes fighting and selling each other to the white slavers.

While the stories of the generations contain details of the difficult and abusive situations of racism, hatred, and loss, the individual characters are very human and each generation lives with new hope. Gyasi writes with knowledge and understanding of a difficult history and of the real people whose lives are a part of it. In the Black Church tradition, a homegoing is a celebration of someone’s life, as opposed to a burial service. In Gyasi’s well written novel, each chapter is a small homegoing for each individual in a long chain of family and events. 

Historical Fiction  Historical  Gail's Picks  Family  Coming of Age  African American

06/06/16
 

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