(Note: this is cross-posted from Kent's Book Blog because a bike has a major role in this book.)
The only thing I want to do in this review is convince you to read Boy's Life by Robert McCammon. I want to do this because I love this book, I treasure it the way a twelve year old boy treasures his bicycle. Let's start there.
I will not spoil the plot by telling you too much of the tale, the tale is Cory Mackenson's to tell. Cory is 12 year old in 1964 and lives in the small town of Zephyr, Alabama. Cory loves monster movies and mysteries, having adventures with his friends and telling stories. He tells amazing stories. Wonderful stories. But let's talk about that bike.
Early in the book Cory's bike "dies" and if you don't understand how a bike can die then by gosh you need to read this book. And if you do understand that bikes live and die, then you might not need to read this book but you certainly should because this book is filled with wonders. Wonderful is a great word for this great book, because it is packed full of wonders.
Cory earns his new bike in perhaps the finest way any 12 year old boy has ever done and his heroism is rewarded:
“Young man?” The Lady’s gaze moved to me again. “What would you like?”
I thought about it. “Anything?” I asked.
“Within reason,” Mom prodded.
“Anythin’,” the Lady said.
I thought some more, but the decision wasn’t very difficult. “A bike. A new bike that’s never belonged to anybody before.”
“A new bicycle.” She nodded. “One with a lamp on it?”
“Want a horn?”
“That’d be fine,” I said.
“Want it to be a fast one? Faster’n a cat up a tree?”
Cory gets his bike:
In later years I would think that no woman’s lips had ever been as red as that bike. No low-slung foreign sports car with wire wheels and purring engine would ever look as powerful or as capable as that bike. No chrome would ever gleam with such purity, like the silver moon on a summer’s night. It had a big round headlight and a horn with a rubber bulb, and its frame looked as strong and solid as the biceps of Hercules. But it looked fast, too; its handlebars sloped forward like an invitation to taste the wind, its black rubber pedals unscuffed by any foot before mine.
Like a rocket, the bike sped me through the tree-shaded streets of my hometown, and as we carved the wind together I decided that would be its name. “Rocket,” I said, the word whirling away behind me in the slipstream. “That sound all right to you?” It didn’t throw me off. It didn’t veer for the nearest tree. I took that as a yes.
Rocket, like the rest of Cory's life, contains more than a hint of magic. Cory and the Lady know this:
“Seems to me,” the Lady said, “a boy’s bicycle needs to see where it’s goin’. Needs to see whether there’s a clear road or trouble ahead. Seems to me a boy’s bicycle needs some horse in it, and some deer, and maybe even a touch of rep-tile. For cleverness, don’t you know?”
“Yes ma’am,” I agreed. She knew Rocket, all right.
There's much more in Zephyr than a boy and bicycle. There are ghosts and monsters, school and summer, friendships and adventures in the woods. There's light and darkness, great joy and sadness.
Boy's Life is a novel I slowed down to savor, one of those rare books I know I'll re-read. At one point in the novel, Cory has this conversation:
“Would you like some advice from an older soul, Cory?”
I didn’t really want it, but I said, “Yes sir” to be polite. He wore a bemused expression, as if he knew my thoughts.
“I’ll give it to you anyway. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to being a boy as long as you can, because once you lose that magic, you’re always begging to find it again.”
A man named Ray Bradbury held such magic all of his life and wrote wonderful stories. In the pages of this novel, Cory's father gives him a collection of Bradbury's stories and it is, like the bicycle, a perfect gift. Robert McCammon has given us a similarly perfect gift, full of ghosts and monsters, mystery and love and the wonder of being twelve years old. It is called Boy's Life. It is one of the finest novels I have ever read.