Friday, October 09, 2015

Guy Friday- Johnny and Ralph

20879898Campbell, Isaiah. The Struggles of Johnny Cannon
October 13th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Johnny and his father are still struggling with the death of older brother Tommy, ostensibly in Korea but most likely in Cuba around the time of the Missile Crisis, and are shocked but somewhat pleased when a young Korean woman, Sora, shows up at their home in Alabama. The surprise? She is pregnant with Tommy's child and has been kicked out of her home by her parents. Johnny is still reeling from the events of The Troubles of Johnny Cannon and the mystery of his own parentage while dealing with his feelings for Martha, a friend on whom he has a crush. Add to this racial issues, Mafia involvement, and lingering problems with life in Havana, and Johnny is certainly struggling.
Strengths: We definitely need more books set during this time period, and a Southern setting certainly puts problems with Cuba in an interesting light, given how many problems Alabama had in the 1960s. Johnny is an engaging character, and the inclusion of a young woman left behind by his dead brother lends a poignant air to the book.
Weaknesses: A bit confusing-- Tommy has met Sora in Mobile, not in Korea, where he had never been. Something about the dealings with the Mafia seemed forced.
What I really think: There is almost too much packed into this book. If the first one had circulated well, I would buy this, but will probably pass for now.

24796223McNally, John. Lord of the Ralphs
October 6th 2015 by Lacewing Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

It's 1979, and Hank is ready to take charge of his suburban Chicago middle school. Whether it's hitting K Mart with his blue-light special obsessed father, worrying about his shoe stealing grandmother, or ogling posters of Farrah Fawcett in the local record store, Hank tries to remain cool. His friend Ralph is a bit alarming, especially when he decides to make money charging school mates to beat up people, but Hank manages to keep his "sky-blue leisure suit...with a dark-blue turtleneck" clean. He manages to make it to the end of the school year, and plans a summer filled with girls in tube tops as he gears up to be a freshman in the class of 1983.
Nota Bene: I graduated from high school in 1983.
Strengths: Writers of historical fiction, take note: this is the level of every day detail that would be fantastic to have in historical fiction books. McNally either kept a journal in middle school or has the world's best memory for detail. I hadn't thought of Zayres in years. This was quirky and goofy, and would have been perfect to have about five years ago, when the children of people who graduated in 1983 were going through middle school.
Weaknesses: This would have been better with a more discernible plot. The fact that this is only available in paperback makes it a book I really can't purchase-- it would last about two weeks. Also, I'm pretty sure that Hank's mother would have worn panty hose on occasion, and they definitely would have been L'eggs, because everyone needed the plastic eggs for craft projects. Doubt, however, that tube tops would have been worn at school.
What I really think: McNally seems very fond of these characters. Perhaps the story can be reworked yet again in about 15-20 years, when grandchildren of people my age will want to read stories about the late 1970s. Details about cars of the time, and a few more tv references could be thrown in.

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