The Reject Bench

Non-Fiction - Memoir
466 Pages
Reviewed on 12/09/2021
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Author Biography

I decided to write this book when I realized how little I knew about my own parents' young lives. The original intent was to communicate to my daughters and any subsequent Morgans about what it was like to grow up in Southern California in the '60s. It was such a turbulent period, it seemed essential to incorporate historical context to the narrative. The starting point I chose was the date my family moved to Claremont, California in June of 1961. The logical ending point was the day I was inducted into the US Army (May 23, 1967). In the process of writing the book, I realized how important my friendships were to me at the time and I explored those relationships more deeply than I originally intended. I also wanted to establish a feel for the regional identity and popular culture of the time.
The result is mostly specific to one particular geographic
area, the Claremont/Pomona/Upland region of Southern
California, but also, I think, applicable more broadly. To
accomplish that, I did fictionalize certain aspects of my
story. Obviously, I can’t remember discussions from fifty
plus years ago verbatim. I did my best to make such
elements true, if not literally true.
This book, then, is a collection of creative nonfiction,
employing techniques like scene, dialogue, and description,
while allowing personal point of view. I do not claim to be
objective, but whenever I have considered it necessary, I
have changed names, details, and characteristics of people
and places.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite

James H. Morgan’s memoir, The Reject Bench, wholeheartedly buys into the idea of growing pains, particularly about isolation as brought about by not being able to make new friends. The author’s story begins in June 1961, a week after finishing his freshman year at Upland High School. The move is only five miles from their Upland residence in California, but he feels like they have moved to a different state. This is understandable considering that he will be leaving so much behind, particularly his friends who think that he is moving to Snob City. The move has something to do with his dad’s promotion at work. Being the new kid in a new school is never fun. As he settles into the rhythms of his new environment, he prepares for the worst and that is pretty much what he gets. In the gradual progress of events, he will find his own circle of friends, and as they try to navigate their coming of age, they will witness the world running into tensions and crises.

James H. Morgan magnificently captures the nostalgia of the 1960s. There is power in the recollection of ordinary people chronicling their experience in specific times in history because it gives a powerful illustration of how ordinary citizens lived and witnessed history—there is often no revisionism involved to advance a personal agenda. The beauty of The Reject Bench is that Morgan skillfully blends both the mundane and colorful episodes in his life and how they are shaped by the events of the times. How he views the looming war in Vietnam captures the sentiments of a considerable portion of the American population about a war they didn’t want that ended up needing more soldiers. A sweeping and intelligent memoir, The Reject Bench is a celebration of growing up and a powerful look into the past from a deep, personal view.

Bernadette Longu

In The Reject Bench by James H. Morgan, the author has taken a word of mouth story and written a book for his daughters, Jessica and Elizabeth, and generations of Morgans to come. It is a very unusual story that begins the author's journey in June 1961 and ends in May 1967 just before his 21st birthday. James moved with his parents, John and Emma Jean, and his brothers, Tom and Johnny, to Claremont. He did a freshman year at Upland High School but the next year had to move to Claremont High School, which meant he left all his friends behind that he originally grew up with. This is a book that you have to read from cover to cover as it draws you in to find out how James, or Jim as he is called, progresses through life. He learns to play the clarinet and is an exceptional player. He has the brains but just slides by in life even when his teachers try to encourage him to use his brains.

The Reject Bench by James H. Morgan is a very interesting book. Although very simply written, it brings to life the struggles that children have when they move from a place they have known practically all their lives to a new place and literally have to start again. James actually takes you on a journey that is sometimes very funny and sometimes very sad and sometimes very confusing. But through each phase, Jim stumbles on in finding his own path through life, knowing that his dad and mom are there if needed but they also make him take responsibility for his actions, especially when these go wrong. There are some characters that walk with him throughout the whole book but there are more that come and go and then disappear.

As his journey progresses, the title of the book becomes real as there is a bench under a sycamore tree in the courtyard at Claremont High School. This was known as the Reject Bench where the kids that did not have any real friends used to sit and eat their lunch; some sat every day but most came and went with the season and each new year. The Reject Bench is a lovely peek into the everyday lives of normal, ordinary, everyday people. It was a compelling read as it brought many memories to my mind of how little I really knew my own parents and grandparents and their lives and how they grew up. Thank you for a very insightful book; it was a joy to read.

Rabia Tanveer

The Reject Bench by James H Morgan is a memoir that will take readers back to the 1960s when civil unrest and the Vietnam war put more pressure on the youth of the country than graduating high school. Jim Morgan was just 14 years old when his family packed their bags and moved to a bigger and better city. With their father’s new job, the household had a lot more money than before, but Jim was more alone than ever. Leaving his friends behind was a tragedy in his eyes, and he wasn’t able to make friends at school. However, things got a little better when more kids from different areas moved to his new school. But Jim’s real silver lining was Dennis, his neighbor. He was everything Jim needed to feel at home and safe from the chaos of the outside world. Together with Dennis by his side, Jim navigated the terrible high school years and adulthood.

After reading this memoir, I believe all of us need a Dennis in our lives. Dennis was exactly what Jim needed to do better and get better. Being displaced from everything he ever knew was hard on Jim, and that showed in how Jim was struggling to make friends and really engage with life. Dennis turned out to be the quiet and gentle support Jim needed to come out of his shell. Even if he and his friends formed “The Reject Bench” at school, but at least Jim progressed. The narrative was smooth and almost like talking to a friend after years of absence. Jim’s adventure with his friends was very nostalgic, and I believe many people will enjoy reading about them. James H Morgan kept the pace just perfect so that readers could feel good about the story. Immersive and fantastic!