Jim the Boy by Tony Earley

I’ve always been a huge fan of the “coming of age” theme in literature.  As readers we get to experience the thrill of a character doing something for the first time, often in a different time and place.  Jim Glass Jr. is one of those characters.  Tony Earley’s debut novel takes us back to rural North Carolina during the Great Depression. This is a period in American History that has always intrigued and haunted me. Back in college, as part of my museum studies class, I put together an exhibit of “New Deal” photographs. Those images strongly shaped my historical memory and to this day I often associate the 1930’s with dusty landscapes and hardscrabble children sitting in ramshackle houses.

Jim the Boy tells a different, gentler, story of that time, one in which families lived and worked together and happiness was often found in the small things. I found myself having a bit of nostalgia for a simpler time in America.  The central character Jim lives with his widowed mother and three bachelor uncles on a farm in rural Aliceville, North Carolina. It’s 1934 and times are tough, but the family gets by with hard work and much love.  Jim experiences all the basics of growing up – his first baseball mitt, his first best friend, and his first encounter with a bully. But he also starts to ask some important questions, like what kind of person was his dead father? Who are the boys from the mountain and why are they so different from the town boys? And finally, what is going on in the world outside his small town? As Jim slowly learns the answers to these questions his uncles are there, right by his side, to guide him and teach him right from wrong.  One could say that this is a book about nothing … except what it’s like being human.  But honestly– there are some major themes, such as the role of family relationships and the fact that change is necessary.

One thought about the cover and style of this book: at first glance it looks like a book for teens from the 1950’s with its retro illustration and the smallish size. Don’t be fooled by the minimalistic quality of this book. The author has the ability to weave a rich and timeless story with few words – it’s so pure it’s like literary honey.  Are you ready for your “warm fuzzy” today?

Click here to find this book in our catalog.

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