“There are some people that walk around on two feet and others like me that run on all four.” Newbie Johnson tries to understand the meaning of this statement while learning about friendship, loss, and love as a small town teenager.
“The Art Of Raising Hell” is a coming of age story set in the 1970s that centers around four teenagers and their involvement with a larger-than-life character named Lonny Nack.
Newbie had recently moved to Bunsen Creek, when his mother is killed in a devastating car crash. Nursing a broken soul, he soon hooks up with the three best friends a guy could ever ask for and meets the love of his life, Sally Nack.
Sally’s brother, Lonny, fears no one, including The Law, and soon takes his peculiar sense of justice, along with his love of practical jokes, to new heights while entertaining the colorful characters of Kickapoo County.
Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.
This coming of age story has a wonderful balance of fun, self-awareness, and profoundness to make it a rather moving story. In essence it is just about growing up in the 1970s but Lopinski makes it much more than that. Newbie tells the story with a sense of reflection and while a lot of the story discusses the various adventures and misadventures he and his friends had growing up, there is a great and meaningful story as well. It becomes about making deep and important friendships, about leaving childhood innocence behind and finding your place in the world, and accepting changes and challenges both big and small.
The tone is light but is very much one of being narrated to, Newbie’s voice reads like he’s telling someone his story, which essentially he is, and with that comes a certain type of language. It does work well, even the few places where it references that a story is being told to a reader, but these are minimal and getting caught up in Newbie’s storytelling overrides any minor narration quirks.
The time period covered crosses many years and can often skip months at a time, but Lopinksi maintains the flow of the story nicely and the narrative never falters, nor do you lose track of the story. It was quite interesting to see how the characters grew and changed over the years and the differences this had on their perspectives on life and the wisdom they thought they held.
Despite being told from Newbie’s perspective, Lopinski seamlessly weaves in the stories and lives of other people in the town in a way that feel natural and real and helps you get to know them as well. Characters are connected in ways you do not understand at first and by the end everything is wrapped up beautifully and loose ends and unanswered questions you had forgotten about or didn’t realise were unanswered are all addressed impeccably.
Lopinksi treats his characters right and everyone gets a decent representation. There are no one-dimensional side kick friends or characters just for the sake of characters. Each character has their own story and even if their appearance if brief, Lopinski manages to still tell their story and bring a bit of life to them with a history and personality.
Lonny is one of these great characters, he seems wild and unruly but he isn’t a bad influence or a rough character, just someone who likes to cause mischief and live life to the fullest. In a way Lonny is both the main focus of the story while still being a semi background character. He has a huge presence in town and almost everyone admires him or knows him, and a lot of Newbie’s life centres around him. I liked that Lopinski didn’t make Lonny a bad person, or someone who only Newbie stood up for. He is complicated and energetic and having him flit in and out of the story was an excellent move, it let the great friendship between Newbie and his main friends develop and strengthen, while still enabling him to have a huge impact on their lives.
Lopinski doesn’t make this a happily ever after but he concludes it well and with a feeling that everything is going to be alright, even after all that has happened. I really liked this story, it is insightful and reflective without being too intense and over the top, and it is filled with surprises and moments, good and bad, that capture a moving tale about being young, growing up, and learning some of the harder lessons in life.
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