4 Stars - Strongly recommended
Many times, I am introduced to books by authors I had no previous knowledge of. Authors that I may never have read, were it not for a helping hand. Regal Literary was the helping hand that introduced me to "Jim the Boy" by Tony Earley.
Set in North Carolina during the Great Depression, Earley takes us through a year in a young boys life, where he deals with the joys and frustrations of growing up, learning to appreciate who he is and where he comes from, and realizing that the world is much larger than he could have ever imagined.
Drenched in southern goodness, Earley sculpts Jim, the stories protagonist, out of "frogs and snails and puppy dog tails". Named after his father, who died unexpectedly a week before he was born, Jim is tortured by your typical 10 year old demons. He struggles to overcome unnecessary jealousies, trys to fight his fears, and looks to his three ever-present uncles for direction and structure. Though normally well behaved and respectful, when he gives in to his ugly side it eats at him until he sets things right.
It's an exciting and confusing time for a boy - the town opens it first multigrade school house, breaking down barriers between the mountain people and townspeople. Homes and businesses are wired for electricity. Extended families supporting each other and working together to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. Friendships are made, and broken, and made again. It's a time where anything is possible.
There were moments of beauty in this novel: the description of that moment where the last of the daylight fades right before the darkness takes over, and the way the stars don't seem as bright once the night is saturated by porch lights. There are also moments of sadness and heartbreak: the way that Jim's mother never let go of her deceased husbands memory, or Jim's guilt over not sharing his baseball glove with a close friend who becomes stricken by Polio.
The story slithers and slides through classic territory, it leaves a natural and comfortable down-home glow, following in the footprints of writers like Truman Capote and Harper Lee, bringing this little boy to life right before our eyes.
I see Jim in every little boys unwashed hands, dirty overalls, and sunburned cheeks. He breathes in every kid who ever said a mean thing and wished they could take it back. He hides inside every child who gloats when he wins, yet feels sorry for the one who lost. He is everywhere.