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By Bob Hartley
Cervena Barva Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
Regular readers will know that CCLaP has been behind on book reviews for just about a year now (a lag we're finally about to close, thanks to our full-time review staff expanding from one person to four this year), and that means especially that a number of great little smaller novels haven't gotten the attention around here they deserve; take Bob Hartley's fictional coming-of-age tale Following Tommy, for example, which won't exactly blow anyone away but is a good, solid, charming look at life among lower-class Irish-Americans in the pre-P.C. early 1960s. And that's an important thing to know about this book before starting, that its rough-and-tumble characters living on the gritty west side of Chicago don't pull any punches here, and that in fact a major part of the plot involves an examination of the rude ways that race relations sometimes played out in these environments. But this is also in the Nelson Algren wheelhouse too (speaking of rough-and-tumble Chicagoans in the early '60s), a funny and endearing look at the daily highs and lows of one such Irish teenager, as he struggles with conflicting feelings about his family, confusion over the opposite sex, and the constant trouble he and his buddies are always getting into with the corrupt cops in their neighborhood. A small, fast-moving manuscript that speaks volumes about the second-generation big-city immigrant experience, the author's lack of personal connection to this milieu makes it all the more impressive, ultimately a historical book but that feels like it was written by someone who was actually there. It comes generally recommended today, and especially to those who enjoy well-done bildungsromans.
Out of 10: 8.2, or 8.7 for fans of coming-of-age stories