The Boys of My Youth: Mirror on the Midwest, circa 1970s
By
J. Gordon
9/23/2003 5:17:59 AM

If you graduated high school in the late 70s or early 80s and were a little on the wild side, The Boys of My Youth [Back Bay] has some great memories in store for you. It's set in the time when all your favorite guy friends worshipped Ted Nugent, drugs were casual, jeans were worn so long we walked on the ends of them, and riding in cars looking for boys was the best way to spend an evening. Jo Ann Beardís got not only an uncanny memory, but an ability to get it down in print better than most anyone, even down to sneaking out of the house though we knew better.

Despite the title, The Boys of My Youth is a story more about the women in this authorís life. Itís a skillfully prosaic memoir told as a collection of stories that hits at the heart of American family Midwestern dysfunction, a girlís growing lack of confidence, and the evolution (and de-volution) of love and friendships.

These stories move back and forth through her 1960s and 70s childhood, and into adult life, with one story even taking place in the womb. Through this ďbelly button windowĒ (if I may quote Jimi Hendrix) and in older childhood scenes, we understand not only the motherís faults and the fatherís alcoholism, but we also grow to love them despite their warts and scars. We quickly bond with the storyteller, Jo Ann, who, like most toddlers on the block, obviously knew a lot more about what was going on than most were willing to give her credit for. This is a world when mothers chain-smoked up to their last days dying in the hospital, fathers were required to drink socially so as not to embarrass the family, and a little girl could spend hours mulling over the scab on her knee.

Dogs figure prominently throughout this collection of stories, further reinforcing a theme of loyalty, unconditional, and sometimes even stupid love that probably should have ended before it did. Along with the cousins, mothers, sisters and best friends, the dogs are by the authorís side through all the cataclysms of her adult life that stretch from never giving birth to divorce to death, both natural and violent. While a fairly quick read, The Boys of My Youth deftly manages to deal with love in every form; from first crushes to unconditional love for a parent or sibling, to best friends, infidelity and the trauma of divorce.

A book on par with Mary Carrís The Liarís Club, The Boys of My Youth is a definite laugh and cry book. This debut memoir, sometimes shelved in stores as fiction due to its creative format and prose, heralds the introduction of a great new writer.

 

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