Cannonball Read IV: The Boys Of Summer by Ciarán West
[Let's keep the comments spoiler free, folks. - mswas]
I know Ciarán West through an online friend - you could say he's "Pajiba-adjacent." To be honest, though, I don't really know him (although all signs point to him actually existing, unlike some people).
When I saw that West had written a book, I bought it to help a new writer, but I didn't hold out much hope. As someone who's known to friends and family as a voracious reader, and someone who's dabbled in writing herself, I've been given writing of a LOT of different quality over the years. Most are people's first stabs at writing anything at all, few have had any edits done, and most, honestly, are not very good. Even as the moderator of Cannonball Read IV, authors who've approached us with offers of their self-published novels have had skills that, shall we say...vary greatly.
But then, I read The Boys Of Summer.
West creates a vivid and engrossing world in his novel. Told by 11-year-old Richie, The Boys Of Summer is the story of one summer week in 1989 Ireland.
It'd been boiling for weeks. Mam said last time we'd a summer like this was in 1977, when she was pregnant with me. I used to wonder what she'd looked like; twelve years younger, with a big belly on her. I seen pictures of her from before that, when she was young; people used to say she was beautiful. She just looked like Mam to me.
We view the events of that week through Richie's eyes as he deals with the dynamics in the neighborhood, his home, his burgeoning love life, his parents, his friends. "The boys:" Dermot, Shane, Joe, Dara, Seán, and Richie hang around together that boring summer, and they pounce on the news that a violent crime against a younger child had been committed in the Quarry. Based on some personal information from one of their own, they decide who they think the culprit is and then they investigate.
But this is no Scooby Doo mystery where hijinks ensue. This is a real story with harsh truths that takes a turn into the sinister. I raced through it all headlong with Richie as he interacted with each of his friends, his mother, his father, Marian - the new girl next door, and the rest of the neighborhood.
Richie is like little Jack in Emma Donaghue's Room. We read the words of his naive view of the world, but we know they are not completely accurate. In seeing Jack or Richie's skewed perspectives, the reader sees the real truth of the matter. Jack, of course, had a completely distorted take on reality, but Richie's viewpoint rang true through that a similar falseness.
Mam would get cross if you took too long. 'It's just common sense,' she'd say. She said that about a lot of things I was no good at.
Though the boys' Irish slang was not in my wheelhouse, I found myself sighing with recognition and approval many times at West's prose. Here's Richie's comment over whether to tell Shane about his time spent with Marian:
I felt like telling him straight out what me and her had done. I didn't though, cos you're not supposed to tell. I wasn't a gentleman, but I knew that.
I also loved Richie's moments with his Mam:
'You know I love the bones of you, don't you?' She turned off the gas under the kettle, cos it had started whistling.
'Yeh-huh,' I could feel a blush coming all over me, and I didn't want her to see it. I loved her too, but you couldn't really say it.
At the moment, the moment, where the novel turns on a dime, West offers us a fervent hope that ultimately must be dashed. We ride it out to the end, as he closes the novel with a quieter hope, a true hope for the future, for Richie and for us all.
Well done, Ciarán. Well done.
This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)