From Goodreads: Tony Johnson is a studious young man planning to soon graduate from much more than high school. Although his zip code places him in a Bronx tenement pre “rise of Obama,” his sights are set far beyond the trappings of his humble upbringing. Collegiate dreams combined with falling in love with a white classmate put him strongly at odds with his father. Although his brother C.J.’s rebellious ways place him directly in the path of danger on gang ruled streets, and the virginal innocence of their sister Tanya is clearly approaching its demise, it is Tony who incurs the majority of Lionel Johnson’s wrath for the sins of ambition, daring to be with Janet Mitchell, and refusing to bend to his father’s will. Seeing unrealized goals reincarnated in the eyes of his eldest son harshly remind Lionel of what once could have been, and of what went wrong. His own childhood in a segregated southern town established a bitter, prejudiced outlook that is the only legacy he has to pass down to his children. When his job and role as primary breadwinner are lost, Lionel’s authority quickly erodes and he drowns his disappointment one drink at a time. This affords Tony, who lacks the seemingly servile patience of his mother, an opportunity to assert independence rather than allowing his fate to be set by chance and circumstance. But throughout the course of a tumultuous year, Tony comes to learn that the world is not as black and white as he and his father’s opposing mindsets would suggest.
Pickering has created a phenomenal book concerning life and relationships. Focusing on a family in the Bronx, Pickering’s characters and relationships paint a vivid portrait of the struggles many young men and women currently face in the United States, be it racism, gang violence, family disagreements, or poverty. Tony, the main character, struggles throughout the entire novel trying to make a place for himself in the world, all the while his father berates him for attempting to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Tony’s father is a man scorned, harboring a grudge against the White man and all others who have money, including his brother, a doctor. C.J. is a lost young man finding solace in his hatred of others through his gang violence, and Tanya is experience love/infatuation for the first time. Together, this family lives a rocky existence and they struggle to make ends meet and deal with disappointment after disappointment.
I was blown away by the vivid depictions within this novel. Pickering’s writing is beautiful and poignant, causing the reader to become one with the characters, feeling their pain, their anger, and their hurt. I loved the set up of the novel; even though the main focus is on Tony, the novel follows each family member throughout the course of the year, creating in-depth characterization. This is a touching novel of relationships and realizations as a family must ultimately band together, or completely fall apart, in these hard times. I am extremely impressed by this novel and highly recommend it to all YA and above—the overall message rings true to everyone, regardless of race or economic station in life, and I think it’s a wonderful read. Four and a half stars.
I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.