Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Boy's Life

What first attracted me to Tony Earley’s novel “The Blue Star” was that the New York Times included in its list of Notable Books for 2008. It seems that Tony Earley had written a book in 2000, “Jim The Boy”, that was a critical success but not necessarily a best seller. As it turns out “The Blue Star” is a sequel to “Jim The Boy”. However, as I found out, it was not necessary to read “Jim The Boy” to fully enjoy “The Blue Star”.

The story takes place in 1941, in Aliceville, North Carolina, a small southern town surrounded by hills, mountains and woods. Jim Glass is 17 years old, entering his senior year of high school in this small town where everyone knows and respects his family. Jim has had an idyllic childhood being raised by his widowed mother and his three bachelor uncles. But now Jim is approaching manhood and things are changing. World War II looms before the country and these young men. Some older “boys” from Aliceville have enlisted.

Jim struggles with what he should do and what he wants to do. Last year he dated the perfect girl that his mother loved. But now he finds himself strongly attracted to Chrissie Steppe, the daughter of an infamous Cherokee Indian and a white mother. Chrissie’s life is very complicated and not one that can easily include Jim. But Jim is persistent and anxious to move beyond the protective enclave of Aliceville and his prosperous family.

There is an interesting and somewhat humorous element to Jim’s story that includes his best friend,Dennis Deane, who says ridiculous things and finds himself in the age old predicament of impregnating a girl on their first haphazard attempt with sex.

Although at first glance this may appear to be a simple story, in the hands of Tony Earley it becomes a beautiful love story that takes us back to a time when life was so much simpler. Tony Earley has described his novels as “children’s books for adults”. “The Blue Star” is written with the precise, lyrical prose that turns a simple story into one that is mesmerizing and difficult to put down. The “blue star” of the title refers to the service banner that families hung in World War II for the men (boys) serving their country.

It took Tony Earley seven years to write the sequel to “Jim The Boy” and he has stated that he isn’t finished with Jim Glass. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait that long for Tony Early to tell us what happens to this wonderful character as he grows and becomes a man.

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