EXCERPT: We bounced along on that rutted dirt road, saying exactly nothing. It was cool, just after dawn, and the day was clear but no colour at all. Like steel. I had my back up against the tailgate, facing the mountains, watching them grow closer as we bumped along. They had always been there, as long as I had been alive, but only as a background for my world. They never seemed entirely real. More like a movie set, or one of those theater plays with a painted backdrop to make it seem as if the stage has the depth of a real outdoors scene.
My stomach jangled with fear at going up there on foot. They looked big and powerful and unforgiving, and that made me feel small.
I thought about what my father had said. How it was rough country up there, and how I didn’t get that yet. How I hadn’t had much in the way of hardship. It gave me a chill.
Then I remembered the words that came right after.
My father saying, ‘It’ll make a man out of him.’
My mother countering with, ‘Unless he dies first.’
It brought a shiver that I think the others might have seen if they hadn’t been watching the view.
Still, I knew that whatever awaited me, there was no backing down now. And I wasn’t sorry about that. I was scared. But I was still ready.
ABOUT ‘BOY UNDERGROUND’: 1941. Steven Katz is the son of prosperous landowners in rural California. Although his parents don’t approve, he’s found true friends in Nick, Suki, and Ollie, sons of field workers. The group is inseparable. But Steven is in turmoil. He’s beginning to acknowledge that his feelings for Nick amount to more than friendship.
When the bombing of Pearl Harbor draws the US into World War II, Suki and his family are forced to leave their home for the internment camp at Manzanar. Ollie enlists in the army and ships out. And Nick must flee. Betrayed by his own father and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he turns to Steven for help. Hiding Nick in a root cellar on his family’s farm, Steven acts as Nick’s protector and lifeline to the outside world.
As the war escalates, bonds deepen and the fear of being different falls away. But after Nick unexpectedly disappears one day, Steven’s life focus is to find him. On the way, Steven finds a place he belongs and a lesson about love that will last him his lifetime.
MY THOUGHTS: Steven may think that he is ready to face whatever is ahead, but he is wrong. No one could possibly predict or be ready for the events that take place. Life changes fast.
Like Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, it is about to become both the best of times, and the worst. Before they return home, the lives of all four boys will have changed irrevocably, taking them in directions they never could, nor should, have imagined.
Steven Katz is one of four fourteen year old boys at the centre of this story, which is told entirely through his eyes. He is a boy who feels at odds with the world and those around him. He just doesn’t fit in until he meets Suki, Nick and Ollie, and a friendship is formed that will last their entire respective lives.
Catherine Ryan-Hyde is an automatic read for me and I looked forward to Boy Underground, expecting ‘an emotional and uplifting’ read as promised. But it never happened. I felt strangely detached from the story and never quite became fully invested. In fact, I found myself skimming in places and, once or twice, debated not finishing. I’m glad I did finish, but the fact that it took me four days to read this speaks for itself.
I loved the friendship between the four boys, the sense of solidarity and their need to protect one another. But at certain points that should have produced a strong emotional response in me, I felt little or nothing. Maybe it’s me . . .
I felt the thread involving Nick’s father accusing his son of a crime that he himself had committed to be a weak link in the story. It never rang true and seemed to drag on interminably.
I became bored and frustrated by the improbability of it.
The family dynamics of this era were interesting. Other than the Yamamoto’s, none of the boys had close family relationships. Steven’s family is very insular and remote from one another. They don’t talk. Their characters are rigid and dogmatic. There is no obvious affection between family members, and ‘what people think’ and their own social standing is extremely important to them.
There is a wonderful, wise character by the name of Gordon Cho who rapidly became my favourite and a surrogate father/sounding board for Steven.
I would have liked this more, I think, had we been able to see into the other boy’s lives. I would have loved to know more about the Yamamoto’s lives in the internment camp; how Ollie felt as he set off for war; and Nick’s experiences as he struck out on his own.
‘The older I get, the less I know. I mean that in a good way. It seems that most of the trouble in this world stems from the things that we’re sure we know. Now that I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that I know nothing, the world is a constant, pleasant surprise. And the things that I allow life to bring me are consistently better than anything I might have sought – or even imagined – for myself.’ And while I am sure that the world is not entirely ‘a constant, pleasant surprise,’ this is a sentiment that I can definitely relate to.
Boy Underground was a good read, but not a great one, although I seem to be an outlier on that point. As I said, maybe it’s me . . .
I: @catherineryanhyde @amazonpublishing
T: @cryanhyde @AmazonPub
#comingofage #historicalfiction #sliceoflife #WWII
THE AUTHOR: I am the author of more than 30 published and forthcoming books. I’m an avid hiker, traveler, equestrian, and amateur photographer.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan-Hyde for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinion.
For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com
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