Like The Wonder Years or A Christmas Story, Tarkington's ability to shine a retrospective light on the painful awkwardness of childhood is masterful and entertaining.
Why I love it
Neil Young's hit 1970s song about love, loneliness and heartbreak lends its title to this wonderful coming-of-age novel. It's the perfect namesake for Ed Tarkington's story about all kinds of love, and learning that the things you think you understand when you are a child, may not have been what they seemed at the time.
1977: The narrator, an eight-year-old boy named Rocky, lives in a small Virginia town and and worships his teenage half brother, Paul. When Paul does something unforgivable and disappears, his abrupt departure wreaks havoc on the family.
1984: Rocky, now fifteen years old, is enjoying the perfect summer. But faces – and stories – from the past are about to change all that. And Rocky will learn that first love and familial love are more complicated than he had imagined.
Tarkington does a great job capturing Rocky in both stages of his life: as a naive boy reacting to the grown-up drama around him, and then as a teenager, with dreams and hopes and rampaging hormones. Like a Southern John Irving novel this book is both sweet and heartbreaking, most often when Rocky is getting himself into adult situations, like a fling with the neighbor's much-older daughter.
Like The Wonder Years or A Christmas Story, Tarkington's ability to shine a retrospective light on the painful awkwardness of childhood is masterful, and the story is entertaining and well-plotted, even when it takes a turn toward the more serious. Rocky might not always make the best decisions, but we're rooting for him regardless. Because that's what growing up is all about.