In 2000, readers were entranced by the simple elegance of "Jim the Boy," Tony Earley's best-selling novel about a precocious 10-year-old boy growing up in Aliceville, N.C., with his widowed mother and three bachelor uncles.
Now Jim Glass is a high school senior in the throes of change, with World War II raging in the background and his hormones raging in the foreground. Readers who loved the earnestness of the first book will savor this sweet coming-of-age novel.
By Tony Earley
Little, Brown (423.99)
The object of Jim's desire is Chrissie Steppe, a half-Cherokee, half-white girl engaged to Bucky Bucklaw, an arrogant classmate who is serving in Hawaii in the Navy.
Chrissie sits in front of him in history class and tosses her long straight black hair so it lands on Jim's desk, sending him into a tailspin of adolescent longing.
"The colors of the spectrum flared in Chrissie's hair with the hopeful radiance of undiscovered stars. Jim sat very still and held his breath, aware that he had entered into a magical place where it would not be possible to stay."
In less assured hands, the adolescent crush might be cliche, but Earley describes the purity of that moment with such intensity that you can feel the tightening of your chest as you remember your thrilling, but terrifying , high school crush.
The book has no irony, flashy writing or profanity. Its relentless earnestness may not be to everyone's liking.
But Earley's writing is pure, and he touches themes of racism and class differences through the prism of a teen romance. Jim's father died days before he was born, but his family of farmers and cotton gin operators is well off for the times.
Chrissie, though, is dirt poor, living in her family's hut on the Bucklaws' land. Turns out, she is less Bucky's girlfriend than his property.
When Jim professes his love to Chrissie, she resists initially by saying, "I think you are a very nice boy. But I also think you've never learned that you don't get everything you want everytime you want it."
This a rewarding sequel that stands on its own. Earley fans can only hope they won't have to wait as long for the next installment of Jim, a boy who is becoming a man.
Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1572.