29th Street South – a story with a heart

“God damn the man who shot President Kennedy!” Robbie Doyle said out loud without thinking.
The class turned as one and stared at Robbie. Miss Rodgers actually dropped the book she was holding.
From 29th Street South by Nicholas Rogers.

It seems that an entire generation can recall what they were doing when they heard about Kennedy’s assassination, but Robbie’s response drew me to read on. The sheer absurdity of being sent to the principal by the teacher, the conversations and the people Robbie met that day, created an illusion that I was there, watching and listening to real people. This uncanny immersion continued as the story progressed, and news headlines entwined with Robbie’s private life. I cannot say that I liked everything I read – the hatred during the civil rights demonstrations, Robbie’s friend almost raped – but the bad things did not spoil the story. It has dark moments in a rich canvas with many bright episodes.

Alas, Robbie’s high-school days passed too soon. I wished I could continue reading about his amazing friendship with Nick and Sam, his crush on Christie, his struggles to become “someone” in high-school. But in the summer of 1967, normalcy was increasingly overshadowed by the danger of being drafted and sent to Vietnam.

I rarely read about wars, but at this point, I was immersed in Robbie’s life and had to know the rest of his story. It was worth reading, even the gory descriptions that I normally skip (there are a few, but they are powerful). I had to read it all, the beautiful and heartwarming along with the horrifying and the ugly, because the entire story is larger than each part. It is much more than a piece of life combined with social commentary. To me, the story seemed to beat like a heart.

PS
“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield has a special meaning in the book. For the song’s 50th anniversary, Rolling Stone has an article about the origins of the song. And this is the song on youtube.

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