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Boys in Exile
Richard Duggin. Booklocker, $10.99 e-book (422p) ISBN 979-8-88531-203-5
Duggin (Woman Refusing to Leave) draws on the messy, complicated nature of boys’ friendships in this elegiac novel. In 1955, 12-year-old Elliott Streett reluctantly arrives at a sleepaway camp for boys in New Hampshire, sent by his worry-prone mother to keep him away from polio. His cabin mates include Billy Waite, an arrogant popular kid whose approval Elliott desperately craves. For Elliott and the other campers who befriend Billy, that approval is elusive; when they talk about sex, for example, Billy patiently corrects one boy for thinking the uterus is in the stomach, then belittles another for believing that girls’ eggs regularly slip out of their bodies (“Even when he was being nice to you, Billy Waite still had to put you down”). Billy regularly bullies nerdy cabin mate Peter Stang, and Elliott risks becoming Billy’s target by secretly befriending Peter. Most of the novel consists of such preadolescent episodes as playing with matches and pursuing girls at a neighboring camp, though it builds to a tragic conclusion involving the three main players. Duggin executes the scenes with precision, imbuing everything from a trip to the bug-infested latrine to a snipe hunt with potent emotion. Fans of Tobias Wolff will love this. (Self-published)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 09/29/2023

Release date 06/01/2022