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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.