Who Am I.
by J.J. Zerr
Primix Publishing

"So, I thought about how Teresa made me happy, and I thought about other kinds of happiness I had known."

Revolving around the childhood and teen years of Eddie Walsh, Zerr's book captures the ups and downs, the naive exuberance, adventurous excursions, and kindling romance of youth. From the opening image, Zerr paints of mischievous five-year-old Eddie stealing cookies, opening the chicken pen, and trying to do his best cowboy impression by lassoing the neighbor's poodle—all without getting in trouble from his mother. It becomes apparent that he seemingly can do no wrong. With his brother Lennie getting the brunt of the spankings for Eddie's actions, audiences will certainly be transported back to memory lane and their own childhood memories.

In the early pages, it is rather jarring to see young Eddie asking why Simon Grossman, a boy his age, can go to school, and in return, the mother responds that it's because the Grossmans are rich. This certainly conforms to the setting and timeframe of the novel. However, in the mind of a five-year-old, the notion that only the rich can get an education because they "get to do things the rest of us can't" leaves an indelible mark as the protagonist comes into his own. Perhaps one of the most revealing scenes is Eddie's recounting of Christmas Eve—both his excitement for getting gifts and the unexpected events that followed. Zerr's integration of humor throughout provides for a refreshing read and an opportunity to navigate and explore some of the more dense content. In particular, the conversation outside the church where Simon explains to Eddie that Thanksgiving is a celebration of Christmas and Santa Claus being only a month away is strong comic relief juxtaposed with the scene that reflects on Uncle Eddie saying, "If boys and girls are really, really bad Santa's—and here he said that N word—comes with a sack." The irony is not lost that even during such a celebratory occasion, the perception of white as good and black as bad remains.

With children being so impressionable, numerous intriguing scenes foreshadow Eddie as a teenager. The childlike innocence in his contemplation of a young couple, whom he calls "in-betweeners," sharing a sundae at Mr. Fenstermacher's drugstore and his subsequent desire to have one when he's older is intriguing. Zerr's efforts clearly demonstrate that whether adults consciously realize it or not, children are watching their every action and are likely to model that behavior in their own lives. Later in the narrative and during a religion class, a nun emphasizes not to say God's name in vain and questions whether it is "fun to cuss, to act grown up." Another child, Little Heiny Stiert, responds, "Well, hell yes, Sister." More than anything else, there is an Eddie Walsh in all children, and to see him growing up in such microscopic detail is meaningful.

From trying to help Large Louie graduate first grade and his reaction upon getting a Little League uniform for his birthday to having his first exposure to death and his first romance, Eddie's journey toward adulthood is comprehensively detailed in this piece. In between, readers will get a snapshot of moments like getting "Tom-Sawyer'd" while dancing with Sarah Esterhausen, fighting with Axel and Heiny, thoroughly vexing mama, and Eddie's bond with Teresa Yount. In nearly every sense of the word, Zerr's work captures all the moments that lead to Eddie's coming of age and the promising future he has embarked upon. With a natural flow to the story, readers will seamlessly travel through the myriad moments that have made Eddie, who in his own words states: "I, Eddie Walsh, am bits and pieces of everyone I ever encountered." Instant relatability with readers and a nonstop engaging plotline provide for a worthwhile read.

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