JJ Kapock: Early Life
by John Gary
Westwood Books Publishing

"Back in Beachwood, as the boys were getting older, they began doing things that they shouldn’t do."

JJ Kapock is a young boy growing up in Beachwood, Maryland, during the era of rock and roll and cool cars of the 1950s. Despite the world around him, he believes in a code of ethics that guides his actions on a daily basis and turns enemies into potential allies. This book follows him from the age of 10 all the way to college age as he faces challenges and the pressures of becoming an adult. From early on, JJ deals with issues like racism, income disparity, alcohol abuse, violence, and developing an interest in the opposite sex. Through it all, he does his best to exercise good judgment, though, like any other hot-blooded teenage boy, he sometimes lets his emotions or desires get the better of him.

JJ tends to be a responsible youth, using his jobs to make money for his hobbies and pay for the cool clothes and car that he dreams of having. Still, the sense of justice that he inherits from his father gets him into fights with dangerous bullies, hooligans, and even the police when he feels that someone is unfairly targeted. When he’s staying out of trouble, JJ spends time with his friends playing baseball and using his boat or pursuing the love and affection of his girlfriend, Julie. He does his best to overcome a lower-income background and pursue his dreams, knowing that compromises will have to be made, and that he can’t have everything that he wants. But a boy can dream, can’t he?

Most fiction set in the era of the 1950s tends to go the Happy Days route, painting the era as a simpler, gentler time of peace and values. When this book opens up with a game of sandlot baseball, the reader will likely relax in their chair somewhat, expecting more of the same before experiencing a violent, racially charged brawl that sends characters to the hospital. There is certainly an element of nostalgia to this story, with its fashions, culture, and references, but what will surprise the reader is how honestly the author depicts the era, showing the darker and more realistic side of American life at that time. Topics like alcoholism, race, and premarital sex are routinely part of JJ’s growing up, though they wouldn’t appear on the TV shows that he watches.

The juxtaposition of JJ’s morals with his teenage emotions and the realities of American life in the 50s creates a protagonist who immediately appeals to the reader. The author does a great job of creating characters that grow over time or that read three-dimensionally, not just fulfilling a role to introduce conflict or support the lead character. Coupled with the vivid portrayal of the sights, sounds, songs, and shows of the decade, the world that JJ and his family and friends occupy feels authentic. The combination of each of these elements creates a book that the reader gets pulled into, both to indulge in the historical lifestyle and to see the characters through to their destination. Both the title and the story leave JJ room for further adventures, and one can hope that more will be coming.

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