When Eugene Ahern receives a call from Father Tim, of the Holy Cross Fathers, asking if he knew Father Robert Walters, who had died in the 1982 Guatemalan Genocide, Eugene struggles to remember the man. His memories take him back to rural Pennsylvania, 1960, where the twelve-year-old Eugene basks in the security of a familiar world that includes his family—Grandma Marja, Uncle Dan, and his parents—and his friends—Harold, Adam, Quin, and Agnes May. As he evolves through adolescence, he encounters the beauty of first love, along with the complicated adult world issues of values, class, bias, morality, and religion that gradually erode his innocence, rendering him wise but also disillusioned. Now, he has to connect the pieces from his past to fully understand Robert Joachim Walters and what Eugene meant to him.
O'Keeffe delivers a heartwarming coming-of-age novel about life, love, and friendship. Using Eugene's experiences with the adult world, O'Keeffe focuses on how a young boy's naiveté changes to maturity. Like in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, boyhood is about mud baths, smoking Pall Malls, Grandma Marja's stories, and other adventures. The humor, warmth, and simplicity of that carefree life is sharply contrasted with the flawed weight of the adult world where Catholic-Protestant differences hang over the Eugene-Agnes May relationship and prejudices strain Eugene's friendship with a half Mexican-half Sloot boy, Quin Gutierrez. It is significant that responsible characters like Grandma Marja, Uncle Dan, and Eugene's father guide Eugene toward the right direction when he feels lost. O'Keeffe's lavish, lyrical language brings out the charm of life and times in which the novel is set, while an entertaining mix of characters introduces readers to the wide spectrum of human nature. This is an elegant, insightful novel that is not just about growing up but also about letting go.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review