Young Junius by Seth Harwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I waffled back and forth between a three and four star rating for this story. I finally settled on four, because, despite the violence and somewhat bleak outlook of the story, I found it compelling and hard to put down.
This is another book that is a departure from my usual fantasy/science fiction fare. I'd read a few short blurbs online that sounded intriguing, and the setting was particularly attractive to me. It is set in 1987 Cambridge, MA, in the area surrounding the Alewife stop on the MBTA subway line. I use the Alewife station on a somewhat regular basis going in to Boston, so, while things have certainly changed since 1987, a lot of the references were very familiar.
The story follows 36 hours in the life of 14 year old Junius Posey, growing up in the slum area of Cambridge surrounding three towers run by two rival drug pushers. Junius is determined to find out who shot and killed his older brother. He and a friend go into the tower territory where they end up shooting one of the members of one of the drug gangs. Junius is given fifty dollars by his mother, who tells him to run to an aunt in NY for safety. Junius ignores her instructions, and continues to look for his answers. In the course of his quest, Junius becomes involved in an escalating war, bringing the two young men, the police and the drug gangs to a bloody, violent confrontation.
It is the characters that make this such a fascinating read. They are real and gritty, with depth and life. None of them are cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Even the hard edged drug lords have shades of grey, and are not completely evil. All of the characters, from older than his years Junius, his tough as nails mother, and his drunkard father, to the crack addicts and drug dealers in the tower projects are real and believable. They live on the pages of the book and pull you into their complex, if violent, world.
At its core, this is a mystery: who killed Junius' brother? And while the answer is discovered, it is the larger story of the ruthless, violent world surrounding that mystery that makes this a powerful read.
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