Johnny's teenage years growing up in 1950s Chicago involve dealing with many of the rites of passage familiar to all boys, like first dates and kisses. His story though is also one of a boy growing into a man having to deal with his father's death, his mother's alcholism and his sister's admission to a sanatorium as they struggle to cope with her autism. He grows up with memories of wonderful times with his father while being angry with his mother, believing she is the root of all their problems. As a grown man he comes to realise things weren't what they appeared and has to reappraise his view of his parents.
This is a biographical novel that moves between Johnny's youth and more recent times. It is a painful recollection of a childhood blighted by his parent's relationship problems, loss and addiction. Viewed from the eyes of a child it is clearer to the reader what is really going on than to Johnny himself, and having a young narrator probably makes the story more painful and poignant. Before his father dies and his sister is diagnosed their life seems happy and loving, despite the long hours and little money. This makes the contrast with what happens later even more stark. Johnny is brought up in a neighbourhood where gossip is rife and he is desperate to keep his mum's secret, so is left to deal with the results of her drinking alone.
Despite the subject matter I found it quite a positive read. Johnny grows to be a gentleman, as his Dad taught him, and deals with all the problems thrown at him with strength and sensitivity. I found the details of how they tried to approach his sister's autism, a fairly new diagnosis at the time, very interesting. The story of his first romance helps lightens the tone and I was wishing such a sympathetic character well with his first love. The story is well-written, and while I'm not old enough to remember the 50s and have never visited Chicago the narrative voice helped transport me to the place and time.
This is not just the story of the impact of addiction, it is a tale of love and lies, friendship and betrayal. I found it emotional and absorbing, and thought it was a really good book.
Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*