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Richard Smith
It is the summer of 1975, and movie theater manager Nate Burton must handle the swirl of events connected with the arrival of Jaws. He has taken the theater job because financial disadvantages have prevented him from attending college, and he envies the privileged high school kids employed at the theater. He falls for one of his college-bound employees, Carrie Jenkins, but must contend with her impressive boyfriend, Owen Becker. Along with custodian, Spence Reeves, an aging former Buffalo Soldier with remarkable talents, he faces the frenzied, sometimes lethal challenges associated with the movie’s arrival and seeks ways of gaining Carrie’s affections.
Smith’s languorous debut is a coming-of-age tale set in a busy movie theater run by a capable but doubtful young man at a crossroads in his life. It’s 1975 in the recently desegregated Durham, N.C., and 19-year-old avid reader and movie buff Nate Burton is assistant manager of the Yorktowne Theater. Nate defuses tense situations with unruly theater patrons and employees with compassion, maturity, and efficiency. In direct contrast is theater manager Horace Bullock, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic sexual predator and gambling addict whom everyone despises. When Bullock is found murdered behind the theater, there is no shortage of suspects. Everyone is more excited about the summer’s expected blockbuster movie, Jaws, by some untested director named Steven Spielberg.

The energetic murder mystery takes second billing as Smith emphasizes Nate’s ambitions and his relationships with friends and coworkers. Self-conscious about his Korean heritage, his reading disability, and his postponed dreams of college, Nate confides in Spence Reeves, the theater’s Black custodian, who was once a Buffalo Soldier. Landlady Mrs. Roe, with whom Nate shares a love of literature, becomes a surrogate mother. When Nate is promoted to theater manager, Smith chooses to focus on Nate’s choices for his future and his pursuit of love interest Carrie Jenkins, leaving the investigation in the background.

Though racial tensions are present, Smith indulges in a bit of glossing-over; the descriptions and dialogue are genteel and never distressing. Readers will be enveloped by the warmth of Americana, the soul of Black musicians, and the savor of down-home Southern cooking. Film buffs will relish the movie trivia and film history as the anticipation of Jaws’ release builds. This is a sepia-tinted trip down memory lane that allows a young man of color to be an ordinary American dreamer.

Takeaway: Film buffs will enjoy following a young man’s coming of age in and around a movie theater in 1975 North Carolina.

Great for fans of Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, John Green.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-