"Haunted by his mother's death and abandoned by his father, young Tommy Blanks is forced to confront the world on his own, circa 1966. Tommy, an ancestor of the real-life inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, is sent to a juvenile facility in his middle teens after he is caught stealing a handful of books written by Mark Twain. It is at the Catholic boys' facility near the New York-Pennsylvania border that Tommy meets a girl and falls in love. He is also forced to confront racism, the Vietnam War, and another sort of more local violence. Soon, the knowledge that his great-great grandfather was a close friend of Twain's will send the teen on a cross-country journey in search of his family history and his own identity. Pearson is at his best when evoking the desperation and longing of teenage love, and this appealing blend of road novel, historical novel, and coming-of-age tale makes a nice addition to the many books that wrestle with the ghost of Mark Twain."—Booklist
With the death of his mother and the sudden disappearance of his father, teenager Tommy Blanks is left to live alone in the Bronx on the money his father left him and what he can steal. His shoplifting eventually lands him in Upstate New York in a Catholic Boys’ Home run by a demonic priest. There Tommy falls in love with a local girl, Nada, but also meets his nemesis, Adam Delano. After a school-wide brawl, Tommy escapes and is presumed dead by the local authorities when they find his hat floating in the river.
Tommy is taken in by a local hermit, a Korean war veteran, who leads him to Tommy’s great-great grandfather’s deserted house in a nearby town. History and fiction converge with the discovery that Thomas BlankenshipTommy’s great-great grandfatheris the young man whom Mark Twain used as the prototype for Huckleberry Finn. And Tommy’s life on the road as an orphan parallels Twain’s resourceful Huck Finn. Eventually, his search for the facts and the meaning of his own experience leads Tommy to Chicago, the Southwest, San Francisco, and finally back home to Shohola Falls. Pearson’s evocative prose works to dramatic effect in a novel that is part mystery, part bildungsroman, part love story. The book will appeal to a general audience and especially aficionados of Twain.
Michael Pearson teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Old Dominion University. His books include Dreaming of Columbus: A Boyhood in the Bronx and Innocents Abroad Too: Journeys Around the World on Semester at Sea
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