Thursday, March 10, 2016

Steven Manchester's Latest, and My Favorite of His Books, Brings Memories of Lassie...and His Owner...Meeting Life 12 Years Later!


Take one small boy and his dog, add 12 years into the future of their lives, and you can begin to understand the latest book--I think my favorite--from Steven Manchester! We have a different dog and a different boy, but the love and loyalty that many of us experienced with Lassie and Timmy--the one I most remember--is the  same. Reading the book is almost like a sequel, except in today's quite different world!


The Changing Season


By Steven Manchester



The traditional "Coming of Age" genre never quite meant as much to me before this book. In fact, I was interested enough to do a little research and found the word Bildungsroman! This seemed to fit wonderfully to place The Changing Season, especially regarding "the psychological and moral growth" of the young boy... 

In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman: "novel of formation, education, culture,"  a coming-of-age story (though it may also be known as a subset of the coming-of-age story) is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age)  in which character change is extremely important.
With that, I am quite able to commend this book as exceptional in responding to both the normal coverage of this genre, but more importantly on the additional psychological and moral issues that greatly strengthens the story line. For me, it is the best I've read in coming-of-age novels.

Why was this important to me? Because I had already fallen in love with Billy and Jimmy as the boy and dog main characters. But then I began to notice that Billy spent a lot of time playing computer games...and lived in a pig sty room. Ok, to me, these are signs of immaturity, at best. He also drank excessively and was not strong enough on his own to make, for instance, a decision to pull over and wait during a heavy rainstorm, while his two friends were with him... I was not really sure about Billy at all. In fact my opinion of him went downhill, as they say...

Until that summer...




Billy was in his final year of school and, unfortunately, seemed like many of the boys of today. He spent most of his time outside of school playing computer games, along with his other two friends. They, however, had a plan for their future, while Billy had no idea what he might do. He was enrolled to enter college but had not picked a particular subject in which to major. Nor was he prepared to deal with the expense of that endeavor, since his parents could not support him. 

The thing that draws you to him is his love and interaction with Jimmy, his best friend. This is especially poignant since Jimmy is old in dog years and had greatly slowed down and is dealing with age-related issues such as arthritis. Still, Billy was able to accommodate to his age and had even begun to worry about losing him, wondering why dogs didn't live as long as humans...


Jimmy was so excited to see Billy that— as if his canine frame were made of rubber bones— his body bent in half from his tail wagging so hard. The dog barked and spun in circles a few times, unafraid to hang his heart out on his furry sleeve and show his love for Billy. 
Billy quickly went to his knees. “Shhhh. We don’t want to wake up Mom and Dad,” he whispered to the dog, raking his fingers through Jimmy’s heavy coat. “I’m okay, buddy,” Billy added. “You missed me, didn’t you?” 
Jimmy barked again, answering the question. He smelled musty, like he’d just come in from the rain himself. 
“Shhhh,” Billy repeated and laughed. Like most Americans, Jimmy— named after Billy’s late uncle— was a mixed breed, a mutt— Labrador retriever blended with one or two unknown breeds. His shiny, raven-black coat was broken up by two white socks on his front legs and paws— and a discolored patch of fur on his hind quarter; it was an old battle scar, proof of his love and devotion to his family. A perfect white stripe ran down the length of his snout, and there was lots of snow on his muzzle and around his eyes, thick swaths of silvery fur that betrayed his advanced years and experience. His milk-chocolate eyes were soft and kind and his left ear stood up straight while the right one normally flopped onto his forehead. He had a thick barrel chest which didn’t lose any girth all the way to his back hips. And his black bushy tail, dipped in white, was always on the move— as if controlled by some over-caffeinated puppeteer. As Jimmy convulsed for attention, Billy rubbed his chest up and down— fast and hard— exactly the way the dog liked it. “Let’s get a drink before we turn in,” Billy told him and started for the kitchen, with Jimmy hobbling closely behind. 
The two of them stepped into the dark kitchen. In the refrigerator’s soft light, Billy placed the gallon of milk to his lips, tilted it toward the ceiling and took a few long gulps. In the shadows on the floor, Jimmy lapped at his water bowl, spraying back wash all over the worn linoleum. After placing the milk back into the fridge, Billy wiped his sleeve across his mouth and looked down at the sitting dog. “Do you have to go out, boy?” he asked, while the refrigerator door slowly closed and the kitchen went dark again. As he limped past Billy, Jimmy’s nails scratched across 
the floor. “Jimmy, your toenails need to be cut,” Billy told the dog. “You sound like a ferret on tile.” Billy took a few steps toward the back door and laughed, realizing his own nails needed to be trimmed. Jimmy waited at the back door to be let out. Years ago, the mutt had been trained to go out to the wood line to do his business. There was no need for an electric fence, just a little discipline and a whole lot of love. Jimmy always went out alone, did his thing and came back in without having to be yelled at or even summoned. Billy opened the door. “Make it quick,” he said. “It’s bad out there.”
 The rain was still coming down hard. Two minutes later, the mildewed-smelling dog hurried back in, shaking the rain from his coat and tracking mud through the kitchen like a small monster truck. 
“Oh Jimmy…” Billy complained, grabbing the paper towels and haphazardly wiping up the linoleum behind them. After Billy relieved himself— and Jimmy waited by the bathroom door, being just as patient— the two of them stepped into Billy’s bedroom. The room smelled like a mix of high school locker room and the moment a forgotten lunch box— that’s been sitting in the sun for a full August afternoon— is opened. Billy huffed at the stench and looked down at Jimmy. Like a canary heading into a coal mine, the mutt didn’t seem to notice; with his head down, he marched straight in. A half dozen hip-hop posters covered the cracks in the plaster walls. The only window in the room was covered by an old throw blanket, which was intended to block out every ray of the sun, whether it was morning or noon. It was a tight space containing a single bed, a small desk supporting a television and video game console, a bureau and a closet that might have comfortably stored two-dozen outfits. Instead, it was used for storage. The spring-loaded door was rarely opened, though, as everything would have spilled out. It was also the door that Billy feared throughout his childhood: the monster’s front door.
A bag of cheese puffs had spilled out from the bureau onto the floor and a box of pizza crusts sat on the desk chair. “Home, sweet home,” Billy told Jimmy and snickered. With all that covered it, Billy couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his bedroom carpet. A year before, his mother had abandoned any hope for the room and refused to enter it again. “You want to live like a pig, then go ahead,” she’d told him. “Whatever’s not in the laundry room doesn’t get washed.”
Besides Charlie and Mark, Jimmy was the only soul brave enough to enter the landfill...
~~~

One of Manchester's strengths is as a storyteller. He develops the plot but fills it in with detail to give readers an opportunity to walk into his stories. His stories are character-driven and allows us to look into the lives of people--people like each of us--with whom we form a brief relationship, with the prevalent question, have we enjoyed meeting them. As I mentioned above, I wasn't too sure about Billy. On the other hand, we see his thoughts as he realizes that he is not even comparable with his two friends who already know what they plan to major in. He is ashamed, wondering if he's so out of it that he in unable to know himself well enough to consider what lies ahead in the future.

Peer pressure and first love play an extremely important part in the book. Billy is caught between loyalty to his male friends, while immediately recognizing he could lose the girl of his dreams. He procrastinates, he tries to act by challenging his male friend, but in the end, he, alone, faces the results of his actions...

During the summer after graduation, his father finds a potential job for him and  Billy starts working at an animal shelter. For those who love animals, (and for animals who love reading, LOL), this heightens the fun part of the story, while allowing Billy to learn from his boss and mentor. That relationship, actually, became the most important one in the book, especially when, in today's world, the parents are not who teenagers listen to in forming and making decisions. Too bad we can't duplicate Arlene Uslander*--we need her "skills" in helping young adults find their way in the difficult days as "teenagers."

I worry about our teenagers...those who are close to me and those who are caught in the web of deceit that comes unexpectedly through human trafficking and other criminal activities. I believe this book could very well be a must-read for many of today's teenagers. Parents...highly recommended for gifting to your children...

From Manchester's FB Photos
When I saw that Ed Asner (actor, Mary Tyler Moore, et. al.) and who I once met as a favorite star, had recommended the book, I was sold... But then I started seeing quite a number of other well-known authors who had provided early thoughts. So I should probably add that this is not only my favorite, but I believe the best written and most inspirational and memorable of his books...in supporting the needs of today's readers.

I don't normally add a personal note about the author, but I've been amazed at this writer's steady rise in quality of writing, plot, and importance of his books to readers and especially families across the world. If you haven't read Manchester yet and are looking for a great contemporary family-oriented book, this is the perfect novel to read and see what you're missing!


GABixlerReviews




Steven Manchester is the author of four #1 bestsellers: Twelve Months, The Rockin' Chair, Pressed Pennies and Gooseberry Island. His long-anticipated, critically-acclaimed novel, The Changing Season, has just been released. Steve is also the author of the award-winning novel, Goodnight, Brian. He has written A Christmas Wish (Kindle exclusive), Wilbur Avenue (novelette), Just in Time (novelette) and The Thursday Night Club (novella), while his work has appeared on NBC's Today Show, CBS's The Early Show, CNN's American Morning and BET's Nightly News. Three of Steven's short stories were selected "101 Best" for Chicken Soup for the Soul series and he is the produced playwright of Three Shoeboxes. When not spending time with his beautiful wife, Paula, or their four children, this Massachusetts author is promoting his works or writing. Visit: www.StevenManchester.com.



*Arlene was a dear friend (through our writing). She passed away two years ago and I wanted to honor her by putting her name in a book. 

I recognized Arlene's name as soon as I found it and many may also recognize Arlene's name as editor and author--she wrote on Fate and I reviewed her book many years ago...Kudos to Steven for his decision to honor her in this lovely way...







See also... My Reviews for Many of Manchester's books...

http://gabixlerreviews-bookreadersheaven.blogspot.com/2010/05/have-we-traded-american-family-for.html
http://gabixlerreviews-bookreadersheaven.blogspot.com/2010/06/review-pressed-pennies-inspiration.html
http://gabixlerreviews-bookreadersheaven.blogspot.com/2012/08/steven-manchester-takes-us-where-all.html
http://gabixlerreviews-bookreadersheaven.blogspot.com/2013/03/steven-manchesters-goodnight-brian-is.html
http://gabixlerreviews-bookreadersheaven.blogspot.com/2015/01/guest-author-steven-manchester-sharing.html