GlennScott Thomas Copper’s novel tells of the coming of age of protagonist Scott Rankin.
Set in 1962, the story follows 13-year-old Scott, who struggles with family strife due to his often-absent father and from violence from bullies. He also has trouble in Catholic school, even though he has promised family members he’ll become a priest in adulthood.
After a family tragedy, he’s shipped from Wisconsin to Chicago, where he meets his great-uncle Ode, a lawyer, and Ode’s assistant. He also encounters Willie, a worldly girl with whom he falls in love.
After a terrible incident, Scott and Willie flee to Ode’s secret wilderness hideout, where they learn about the local Native American tribe’s culture and history and grow even closer.
Scott is an endearing main character and narrator who is intelligent and well-read, yet struggles with a lisp and frequently vomits during Mass at Catholic School, ostensibly due to the smell of incense but possibly from deeper psychological issues. As a teenager, he discovers his sexual longings towards women, nicknaming his penis “Private Rankin. This results in both comedy, as Scott attempts to conceal his public erections, and concern, as he wonders if these urges indicate he shouldn’t become a priest.
The book is a surprising – and often jarring — mixture of sophistication and adolescent humor. Scott, Ode, and Willie have meaningful conversations on Augustine’s Confessions and the Book of Job. Yet on the train where they meet, Scott and Willie enjoy a farting contest that drives the other passengers from their compartment. Additionally, there’s an intense interest in sex and private parts that feels like part of a different novel.
The novel’s length is also problematic. Many of the beginning scenes could have been easily cut, and with its plentiful geographical locations, it could have been divided into multiple books.
Finally, there are frequent spelling and quotation mark errors.
Even with these issues, readers looking for an intelligent young character wrestling with life questions, as well as those curious about Catholicism and Native American culture, will find some rewards here.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.