“A boy with a highly original voice winces his way into the bewildering world of adults during a neglected moment in American history” (Newbery Medalist Richard Peck) in this heroic coming-of-age novel.
Johnny Cannon’s got problems. Money is scarce. Martha Macker, the girl he likes, barely knows he’s alive. His best friend Willie is pretty great, but he also happens to be a black kid—which is not exactly acceptable in Cullman, Alabama. His big brother Tommy went to war and vanished. His Pa may be committing treason in their backyard. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get worse, an old family friend—or maybe enemy—appears and shakes everything up. How’s a kid like Johnny supposed to get himself and his family out of a mess that’s stickier than molasses and twice as tangled as a spiderweb?
Set primarily in the small Alabama town of Cullman during the turbulent early months of 1961, Campbell's strong debut novel mixes action and drama as 12-year-old Johnny Cannon wrangles with his family's poverty, his brother joining the military, and race relations in the South. While Johnny is trying to keep the bank from repossessing the house, his father is playing with radio equipment and dealing with shady characters, which soon bring the CIA to town, further complicating matters. As Johnny befriends an African-American boy named Willie, he's forced to reevaluate his own views and experiences. When it turns out that people close to him were involved in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, it throws his world into turmoil. While the story takes some implausible, larger-than-life turns, Campbell balances them with a sensitive, authentic look at racial conflict and attitudes in 1960s Alabama, filtered through Johnny's distinctive attitude and voice. "I wasn't paying no attention the day I was out hunting turkey," he claims as the book opens, and his story spirals out wildly from there. Ages 8 12.