Themes of kinship and filial bonds reverberate throughout Ford’s loving account. Conley’s father, in constant survival mode, has a “mean streak,” and often pushes Conley to the breaking point; however, although the hero takes off every time his home life becomes too much to handle, he always returns to the fold after tasting adventure. Readers will be captivated by his classic capers, such as hitchhiking to Florida with a stranger named Al (who uses him to cash bad checks along the way) and being left on his own in New Orleans, where he transforms into a “cracker-jack” hot dog salesman–“Flanked by vendors at least three times my age, I felt like I was part of an army heading into battle to win hungry folks over with a great hotdog.”
Ford’s descriptions stand out, launching readers straight into the 1940s and 1950s for a front-row view of Conley’s tumultuous but entertaining exploits. Americana-minded readers will wax nostalgic at Conley’s hunger for “fishing, squirrel hunting, the Smoky Mountains, grits, and sweet tea” and be absorbed in these rousing tales but also the evocative milieu, from his sister Betty’s “cherry-red lipstick that contrasted with her jet-black hair” to the twelve-cent hamburgers and back roads drag racing. Much like the “Single-lane roads twist like snakes through the trees in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains,” this heartfelt story offers a beautiful ramble through unforgettable territory.
Takeaway: Rip-roaring escapades and nostalgic musings in an American coming-of-age adventure.
Great for fans of: Donna Florio’s Growing up Bank Street, Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing, Lisa Howorth’s Summerlings.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A