Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Review: "Little Beasts" by Matthew McGevna

Tragic but more realistic than we'd like to acknowledge, Matthew McGevna's Little Beasts is tremendously affecting.

It's 1983. Eight-year-old friends James, Dallas, and Felix don't have much to do over the summer in their Long Island town of Turnbull, but that doesn't let that stop them. They spend their days roaming through the woods, watching the sheriff evict people from their homes (and then rummaging through the spoils), and avoiding the town's teenagers, many of whom are looking for mischief.

Fifteen-year-old David Westwood is an aspiring artist, intelligent and sensitive, seeking more out of life than he believes he is getting. He is obsessed with a fellow student, and more than happy to antagonize his classmates by making them think he's an Anti-American communist. But at the same time, he wants the acceptance of his peers, and the affection of the girl he loves, but circumstances—and his own behavior—stand in his way.

One afternoon, James, Dallas, and Felix come upon a fort being built by a group of kids, and they decide to take the wood and the tools back to their own neighborhood. This sets off a confrontation that will leave each boy reeling, physically and emotionally, and set them on a collision course with David and his friends. And after a party that David attends that night ends far more differently than he imagined, David's anxiety and anger ratchets up, and the next time the boys interact with David and his friends, it ends in disaster.

Little Beasts was based on a real-life incident, which adds an additional note of tragedy to the plot. This is a book about how one single moment can change so many people's lives, and how anger—even misplaced anger—can consume. It's also a powerful story about redemption, and how clinging fast to our beliefs without the thought of compromise doesn't always provide the results we expect.

Even though the book—and, in fact, the synopsis which accompanies it on most sites—divulges the key event in the book, you still cannot stop reading it, even though you know it will sadden and anger you. McGevna is tremendously talented, and created a vivid picture of place and time, populated by characters who are far more complex than you think they will be at first. I look forward to seeing what comes next for McGevna, because I was very impressed with his storytelling ability.

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