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Reviewed by Julie Hodgson for Readers' Favorite
J.P. Sexton's The Big Yank is a memoir about a family after immigrating from New York to Donegal in Ireland. The family life of John and his little brother, who doesn't get the beatings that John gets, is almost harrowing, to say the least, trying to make ends meet by earning the odd shilling, getting his head bashed, arse beaten, and a plethora of curse words thrown at him by his angry father, at any chance he could get. His mother was no better. John was always cunning, though, in using extra layers of clothing if he felt a beating was imminent! Getting into mischief and terrorising a neighbourhood was child's play for him and his brother Jimmy, even though it meant a good beating afterward. Being a Viking was a fun game! John's backside paid for it in the end, though!
When they had first arrived, tea and biscuits were served for his family, much to the delight of John and Jimmy, who stuffed them into their pockets at every opportunity. Not any of your rubbish tea either! The good stuff with real china tea cups as well. A welcome treat for these impoverished boys. Smuggling food over the Irish border so his father could get goods at half the price for his business maybe seemed like an adventure! But it was deadly serious to his father. Yes, the boys could possibly get some chips bought for them, even a cinema was a guise for their journey across the border, should any border guard ask any questions. Just as long as they made it back without any of the foodstuffs being confiscated! A miracle indeed that they were never caught.
J.P. Sexton's memoir, The Big Yank, takes readers by the hand through a journey of laughter, mixed with shock and exasperation at how he was treated at the hands of his parents while growing up in County Donegal, Ireland. It is unbelievable that the social services did not see what was going on and that he and his siblings didn't end up in a care home. J.P. Sexton tells his story brilliantly. An unleashing of emotion so fierce you cry and almost flinch when he gets his beating from his very angry father! How on earth he got through his childhood is beyond me. Being a huge fan of McCourt's Angela's Ashes, Tis, etc. this was a must-read for me. J.P. Sexton surpasses McCourt's storytelling with ease and brilliance. His innocence was stripped away bit by bit throughout the book. If there is one book you have to read, then it's this one... Superb and heart-wrenching writing.