Published: Jun 10, 2008 08:56 PM
Modified: Jun 10, 2008 08:56 PM
It is almost that time again. Time to make a summer reading list. In a few weeks, I will write about some of the books that UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch" will feature in the new season.
In the meantime, there is one North Carolina book that should be on every North Carolinian's list for reading this summer: "The Blue Star" by Tony Earley.
Earley grew up in the North Carolina foothills in Rutherford County. It is the setting for much of his work, including "The Blue Star," which came out a few months ago. The new book is a follow-up to "Jim the Boy," a story of a 10-year-old boy growing up in Depression era North Carolina. That book was a quiet, unhurried look at the boy and life around him. Earley says that it was a children's book for adults. Or, I would say, it was a childlike book aimed at mature, thoughtful readers
"The Blue Star" picks up the story of Jim Glass in 1941, when he is 17, a senior in high school, and facing an approaching war. He is still living with his mother, whose three brothers help guide Jim through his growing-up years.
Earley sets his characters in a time that is too recent to be "old history." But because so much has happened and so much has changed, Earley's careful descriptions of farm life, isolated small towns, textile mills, and personal relations in the times before television, the Civil Rights revolution, and the movement toward gender equality are poignant and enlightening reminders of how we used to be.
In this context, Jim deals with the teenage torments of falling in love with a girl who is "unsuitable" and "unavailable," and with the challenges of dealing with adults who are far from perfect. There are no gimmicks and no strained plots to push the story along. The short book flows easily and steadily home with only a few mild surprises. Earley's crisp and lovely writing makes for a gentle satisfying ride.
Only very rarely does a North Carolina book receive as much favorable critical attention as this one. The New York Times Book Review featured the book on its front page. Reviewer Scott Turow, the author of "Presumed Innocent," wrote, "I galloped through the novel and relished every page. The book succeeds for two reasons. First, Earley knows Jim and his world with a sureness and an intimacy that always mark the most involving fiction; he understands even the uglier things that Jim is so slow to recognize, like the class rivalries between the more prosperous townspeople and the 'lintheads' who work in the mills. ...
Earley's simple prose is always informed by Jim's good heart. Jim, the McBrides and Aliceville so thoroughly fulfill our era's longings for the news of good lives lived by faith in one another that 'The Blue Star,' like its hero, is irresistible. If there is a third installment, I will be in line at the bookstore when they open up the boxes."
In USA TODAY, Bob Minzesheimer wrote: "The story tenderly deals with sex, race and class. But it's not one of those novels driven by issues, with a message to deliver. It's a quiet, understated, grown-up book."
If you are still trying to decide whether or not to try this book, maybe these words from the Los Angles Times review by Carmela Ciuraru will help.
"Those who like their fiction too smart alecky for its own good may bristle at Earley's latest work, but those with irony fatigue and a tolerance for earnest, straightforward prose will find much to appreciate."
Unless you think you will "bristle," put this much praised North Carolina book on your summer book list.
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