Somewhere around 4 out of 5 stars (I'll explain)
I feel a little guilty for the way I treated this book. I've wanted to read it for ages. But I keep putting it off, all while hearing great things from people about it. Then I read it when I'm really in the mood to read something else, distracted and stressed from work. I'm sorry Eli the Good. I did not give you the attention you deserved. It took me about halfway through before I pushed through my distractions and really into the story. But I honestly don't think the book is to blame.
I've heard this called a YA book but I'm still not convinced. The main character is 10, more of a middle-grade age, and it's told from the all-seeing older self perspective. So even though most people call it YA I'm going to disagree. Call it middle grade, call it adult with a child protagonist, but I don't see how you can call it YA.
Ten-year-old Eli reminds me of my childhood (even though the book takes place about 10 years before I was born). He's an innocent but intelligent child, the type of boy who rides his bicycle everywhere and believes that trees have something to say. He's endearing. In many ways I feel like childhood me was a mix of Eli & his best friend Edie (a tomboy of a girl).
"Country people sure do have more stars than anybody else," she said. "We ain't got much but we got the stars."
The fact that the author is from Lily Kentucky (I drive past this community daily) only reinforced the resemblances to my childhood. I kept distracting myself by trying to figure out if this book took place in a real local town (ultimate conclusion: It takes many familiar elements of surrounding towns without specifically being London, Lily, Corbin or Barbourville).
Eli's the child of a Vietnam Vet struggling with memories from the war. The book follows the summer when his father starts losing himself in the memories of the war. It's heartbreaking how the Vietnam Vets weren't honored, appreciated or even taken care of. Sometimes this book feels like a cautionary tale for the current war we find ourselves in. Not about the outcome or politics, but about what might happen when veterans return.
"That's what it was like to be the child of a Vietnam vet, though: we're always caught between defending our fathers and not understanding them."
This is a sentimental book about a more innocent time when children rode bicycles, talked to trees and went swimming in creek. It's the type of book that should be read in the dog-days of summer somewhere with the scent of honeysuckle hanging in the air.
The book wasn't as Southern as I expected. My attempts to read with a Southern accent in my head just muddled things. Occasionally I feel like the adult voiceover interjects a little too much, but overall it works. It's a nice story, different from a lot of the other stories currently being told. The style is different and might take some mental adjustments. But I think it's worth reading.