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Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite
Johnny Boy is written by John Califano. Born into a tumultuous working-class family in Brooklyn New York, Johnny Caruso tries to make sense of the abusive relationship between his parents, while struggling to find a voice of his own. His bitter, alcoholic father, Bellisario, believes violence and intimidation is the only way to reign over his family. As Johnny grows up, he adopts his siblings as his role models. Older brother Frank has little respect for his father and shows it. He believes, unlike his father, that with hard work and no excuses, you can achieve anything in life. When Frank joins the army, Johnny feels he has been abandoned, and his life is further thrown into turmoil when his mother takes to her bed. As Johnny's mother's health deteriorates, Connie is left to take her place. The violence and beatings become more common and soon Connie finds an escape through marriage. Now Johnny turns on any kind of authority and, with his gang of friends, seek to cause disruption at school and in their community. It is only when a kindly adult throws a lifeline of a better future to him that Johnny believes maybe happiness could be possible.
From the first few pages of this fantastic book, I felt I understood the main character's personality and the dynamics of this family. Every character has been created with the utmost care. The dialogue especially was strong and explained everything about their personalities and view of the world. The narrative was extremely visual. I was swept into the 1950s and '60s Italian/American New York. This is an exceptional story of the complexities of family relationships and the battle for authority. The determination to succeed and the frustrations that come when things don't go your way. This novel truly evoked strong emotions as I read it, the scenes between Frank and his father were particularly disturbing. I loved Frank's character, he was focused, strong-minded and ambitious. I thought the friendship between Johnny and Jackie was truly superb, I loved the dynamics between them. My favorite character had to be Sally Boy, he did make me laugh. I was sad to finish this book as I wanted to know about Johnny's next chapter of his life. I hope the author writes a sequel. An exceptional story from a very talented author.