Our friendship happened in an instant and felt as comfortable as an old pair of sneakers with no need to match. Even so, I slowed when we got close to school, thinking the Chubbs might spot us. But then I remembered my daddy got forty-seven stitches across the back of his shoulder so Samson and I could be friends. I mustered up the courage to run and catch up, to walk beside him.
The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren is a story of coming of age in a small town in the Southern U.S. where friendships between white and black were still generally unacceptable despite the legal and social changes of the 60’s. The story begins when young Jason Lee first enters school in 1974 and meets black schoolmate, Samson. Although they hit it off immediately, the friends also become the target of the school’s racist bullies because of their friendship.
Jason Lee’s father, who died in the Vietnam War when Jason Lee was young, was involved with the Civil Rights movement, and Jason Lee’s mother is supportive of him throughout. As Jason Lee and Samson grow up together, their childhood interactions are influenced and directed by the prevailing racist climate of their town as well as the violent leanings of the family of town bullies.
First (and most important), I enjoyed this well-written coming of age novel. Author Klann-Moren is one of those writers whose prose and dialogue feels effortless; I was immediately immersed in the tale. It is a true compliment to a writer if I lose myself in the writing rather than being continually aware I am reading since I am often reading the book specifically to review it. No problems here – I was instantly engaged.
The book covers a long period of time (eleven years), beginning in 1974, and there were many themes gliding in and out of the story — racism, doing the right thing, grief, hypocrisy, and death. That’s a lot to cover. Although I enjoyed the book and felt that the themes were generally well integrated by the overall theme of time marching on (and the changes it will bring), I came away feeling that some of the subplots, particularly the mother’s delayed grief / problem with prescription medication, distracted from the core story.
The Clock of Life has a large cast of characters, many of whom were slightly updated versions of classic Southern Gothic: the courageous young widow, the mentally challenged yet wise uncle, the northern dandy, and the cops who look the other way when racism becomes criminal behavior. And, of course, being The South, there is plenty of moonshine around. The Southern Gothic feel didn’t bother me so much as make the story feel too familiar.
Once the timeline of the story arrived in the 1980s, the characters and setting also felt slightly outdated. Kids in this small town apparently didn’t watch tv, play Atari games, or listen to music. They may have been poor, but TVs were so affordable by the 70s that everyone had one. Even Southern kids begged to stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live. Instead, life in Jason Lee’s town continued on without those disruptive Northern influences.
Despite my criticisms, this book was a good read. It takes on important historical problems in the U.S in a generally realistic way. I think it is an excellent story for young people, providing a way in to the emotional impact of what must seem like ancient times when they study it in history class. I very quickly became completely involved with the characters and their lives, and I think kids would find the characters appealing, too. Whether you are an adult or a young person, you will want to have a big box of tissues handy throughout; this one is a tear-jerker.
I always like to advise on grammar and spelling because the quality of Indie books can be highly inconsistent; this book has no problems with any of that. The proofreader’s job is well done. I love it when the proofreader’s job is well done.
I give the book 4 stars and recommend it for people who enjoy Coming of Age stories, readers who are interested in the real-life impact of racism in the historical South of the 60s and 70s, and readers who like a story with strong emotional appeal.
At the time of this review, the Clock of Life is listed at a retail price of $5.99. You can purchase it for your Kindle from Amazon.com by clicking here. It is also available from iTunes by clicking here.