by Alan Venable, 2013
Paperback, 170 pages
List price $14.95
In the East End of Pittsburgh of the late 1950s, shy, middle-class Marty falls under the spell of his under-class loner, eighth-grade classmate, 16-year-old Russo. What could go wrong?
“The mystery of belonging and loyalty are the subject of this funny, easy-to-read, coming of age novel. The privileged, middle class boy opens his tender and ambivalent heart to an older boy who is virtually on his own, while the vulnerable cicadas crawl out of their shells. The novel proves to be a powerful and endearing unfolding. Love to see it as a movie.”
-- Laurie Marshall, Peace Building Through Art
“Good pacing, interesting characters and lively dialog keep the pages turning. A wonderful depiction of the time and setting, yet it speaks to the ubiquitous awkwardness that nearly all of us experience, no matter in what era we may have grown up.”
-- G. Stephens
“In all honesty, I wasn't sure I'd be THAT interested in a boy's coming-of-age tale, being stuck in my mystery thrillers- what a joy this story became in my stuck reading genre.
“‘Don't make friends with the new kid’ especially if he dresses differently. Eighth grader, Martin Badger learns this lesson a hard, unforgettable way. That's only one of the different things about the new kid, Arnold Russo, with his ‘...goofy shirt [with] up-and-down black-and-yellow stripes, like a rider might wear in a horse race.’ He’s also older than the other kids in his class, and much tougher with his life's short history.
“Still, Martin's mother thinks it's a good idea to be friendly to the new kid. Eventually Martin accepts Arnold and his life is forever changed for better or worse, only time will tell.
“This story took me back to a time I thought I'd all but forgotten when, no longer a child, not yet a young adult, I struggled to understand the growing need to be myself, stay within the parental rules, and make sense of the growing sexual emotions as does Martin. His classmates, friends for many years, are also changing, and it's Russo who brings out the good, bad and ugly in them all.”
-- June Ahern, author of The Skye in June
“I seldom experience a book as a page-turner that can’t be put down until it is finished. Ratting on Russo was an exception. I began reading on a rainy afternoon and could not put it down.
“One does not need to have been an adolescent in Pittsburgh during the 1950s (as I was) to marvel at Venable’s uncanny ability to bring to life through words the post-World War II neighborhoods of America’s industrial cities.
“The book’s genius is its capacity to awaken past emotions: the joys and travails of surviving being an eighth-grade male in 1950s America. That said, readers who were raised in Western Pennsylvania (yinz know who you are) may particularly enjoy the Pittsburghese that periodically emerges.
“At one level, Venable seems to set up Russo for the reader to dismiss as the classic ‘loser’. Disoriented, drifting, and socially inept, Russo seems to have been pulled from central casting as the kid who, in his fifties, will be barely getting by repairing cars at some broken-down garage. But by the end of the book, one realizes that it is a grave mistake to dismiss Russo as just another lost adolescent destined to drift aimlessly through life with a broken moral compass.”
-- Roger C. Hartley, author of Monumental Harm: Reckoning with Jim Crow Era Confederate
“Alan Venable has an extraordinary ability to reach back. We return to the time of Peyton Place, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Little Lulu, Perry Como, Elvis, and models of the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier. The dialogue is wonderful.”
-- Sarah McFadden