Saturday, July 28, 2012

Setting the Bar: A Review on East Bay Grease by Eric Miles Williamson

T-Bird Murphy is just trying to survive. His mother chose the Hell's Angels over him and his father has recently gotten out of jail. Every day he spends time devising plans to avoid the local school bullies while proving to everyone that he's not only intelligent but he's also an exceptionally talented trumpet player. As T-Bird moves on in life he learns how to adapt, figures out where his strengths lie and finally begins to understand exactly who he is and where he belongs.

So obviously I have been posting a LOT of reviews on YA books out in stores right now and yeah, I know that the next great Pulitzer prize winners of fiction are not going to be discovered amongst the stacks of books I read which are found mainly in the YA and Science Fiction sections of any average bookstore.

But hey, when you spend hours reading articles for research towards school assignments it is acceptable to have a guilty pleasure indulgence and mine is to find these books that have a certain mixture of supernatural/dystopian/fantasy elements with a bit of romance thrown in because guess what? They're good books, pure and simple. Not to mention that a LOT of these writers are masters at their craft and the worlds and ideas that they come up with are pretty darn impressive.

But I do read more than just YA and Science Fiction. As a change of pace, this book under review, East Bay Grease by Eric Miles Williamson, is not your average, fluffy, roll your eyes because you are "so bored and disgusted with YA books and the people who read them because seriously, why can't people read anything else and don't they know what good books are anymore?" kind of deal (shame on you for rolling your eyes before attempting to read YA releases! Have you ever tried to read YA? Dare you to try one!). The truth is this book will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way and, fair warning, it's due to the amount of bad language, drug use and the brutally honest recounts of violence suffered and witnessed by the main character.  But to be honest, what else could possibly be acceptable in a book about a blue collar world life? To be as faithful to the material as possible, one can expect no less in terms of environment and characters when reading a book about the blue collar world and Williamson handles his material with enough grit and hard-steel resolve to give the world the honor it deserves.

The story is your average bildungsroman/coming-of-age novel. The plot follows the growth of T-Bird Murphy, a kid stuck living with a mom who is more interested in "spending time" with the Hell's Angels than with taking care of her young son. T-Bird's dad is in jail and his brothers had the possibly fortunate luck of being sent out to foster families but all the main family members eventually come together to help with the main development of T-Bird as he grows up to finish junior high and then high school. Quite simply the novel revolves around the life of T-Bird as he learns the ups and downs of family life, friends, love and hard work.

Kudos to the creation of T-Bird and Williamson's decision to have his main lead start off as such a young kid in the novel. Readers get the chance to see distinct childhood impulses like making a "Girl Haters Club," complete with a set of rules and consequences, as a result of T-Bird being a kid which helps to establish this character as a healthy average child with enough backbone to impress the reader and coax them into following his life for the duration of the story. As the book continues T-Bird works through the fate of being a bullied kid in school and the ramifications involved with choosing to exact revenge on his tormentors when the opportunity arises. The appeal to follow this kid is either for the reader to find out if T-Bird takes the high road or to find out if he chooses to act out in an explicitly violent matter, which you really can't fault him for in the end. T-Bird as a child is tortured on a regular basis, ending up scarred and bruised on more than one occasion and yet the readers will continue on with reading his story, pain or not. Why, you ask? Because from what we readers know about this kid, we owe him that at least. That's the effect this kid has on the audience.

Despite the harsh environment and the take-no-shit attitude, there is something inspiring about the coming of age story revolving around the unknown potential genius of T-Bird Murphy. With everything in his world going against him, the quiet strength and ability to crack some pretty entertaining jokes (though they eventually disappear as T-Bird gets older) are enough to make this tough kid someone to root for. While he devises interesting ways to steal from stores, enemies and the occasional friend and he drinks like a fish, readers are told that T-Bird is so smart he's encouraged to take courses at the University as part of a school program and he holds a special affinity for jazz musicians and their music, all traits impressive in a kid trying to figure out the man he's going to become in the future.

Tragedy seems to strike T-Bird around every corner and yet the kid manages to continue on, practicing on his custom made trumpet and eventually becoming a gunite construction worker after graduating from high school. He's not afraid of hard work nor the time it takes to get what he wants. His voice is honest, grudging; he gives the facts necessary to tell his story and passes judgment on everyone and everything in the process. And in the end as a reader you feel that T-Bird deserves recognition, he deserves accolades but if nothing else he deserves respect. Williamson set out to write a book and instead created a kid who managed to grow up and create a life of his own that extends past the pages that bind him to stick with you long after you close the book on its final parting words of hope. And that's a feat revered and reserved for the truly talented and influential writers of great literature, setting the bar that the rest of us aspiring writers can only ever hope to reach in our lifetimes.

Rating: 10 Stars.

I WANT people to read this book but I will restrain myself from buying copies and passing them out. But I will tell you all about this book if I think I can get away with it and stress the fact that it is a necessary read for anyone and everyone. Literature at its finest, in my humble opinion.

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