I specialize in reviewing Print-On-Demand (POD) published books for my website and Midwest Book Review. Please query for a review by email to hgunther234@hotmail.com.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


A Coming-of-Age Tale
iUniverse, Inc.
2021 Pine Lake Rd, Lincoln, NE
Genre: Fiction/Literature
Rating: Excellent
ISBN: 9780595448104, $14.95, 186 pp.

Quoting from the back cover:

"Connecticut, 1952. School is out for the summer. In a time before computers, X-boxes, and iPods, the neighborhood kids have to get into trouble the old-fashioned way–using their imagination.

"Ten-year-old Sonny Boy get the bright idea for a practical joke involving his mother and a snake. He fears the loathsome reptiles more than anything in the world, but he figures it will be a great gag that will make him a hero to his buddies, Charlie and Pudgy–and to a certain girl. But three bullies harass the boys at every turn, and a battle of wits ensues. Nothing, however, diminishes Sonny Boy’s infatuation for, or attempts to impress, the lovely Mary Lou.

"During that hot summer, Sonny Boy befriends an octogenarian named Otto, whose wisdom facilitates his introduction to adolescence–and a final showdown with a snake."

Somewhat of a strange title for a book, but in the end, it all makes perfect sense.
Why You Shouldn’t Throw a Snake At Your Mother is one of the most delightful stories I’ve read in quite some time. Phil Gray has a true gift for story telling, particularly about young boys. He has a marvelous sense of humor, contagious enthusiasm and is a master at description and creating colorful characters. His style of writing is reminiscent of Stephen King’s great talent for writing about adolescents and setting the stage with historic trivia. Allow me to share a small portion with you, from page 4:

"This was the summer of l952. Baseball was in the air in America, the Summer Olympics were underway in Finland, and a nasty war was sputtering in Korea. Our world was largely unaffected by these events. School was out, and we were at play...everywhere except, of course, in the Woods.

"The year had started with a yawn–Dimitri Shostakovich finishing his fifth string quartet, the Dutch finishing a new Bible translation, Elizabeth Taylor marrying Michael Wilding a second time–and didn’t get the first jolt of consequence until the end of February when Winston Churchill announced Britain’s first atomic bomb.

"After that, things picked up. Puerto Rico became a self-governing U.S. commonwealth, the Communists re-invigorated their offensive in Korea, the U.S. Senate finally ratified the peace treaty restoring sovereignty to Japan, and the most important contribution to the pop culture of the civilized world, the very first Rock and Roll concert, called the Moondog Coronation Ball, was introduced at the Cleveland Arena by a local disc jockey named Alan Freed–peace be upon him.

"The Jackie Gleason Show, featuring the Honeymooners, debuted on television that year. Earnest Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea, and William Gaines published the first Mad comic book. Herman Wouk won a Pulitzer Prize for Caine Mutiny, and Humphrey Bogart received the Academy Award for Best Actor in the l951 movie African Queen. The Academy Award for best 1951 film went to An American in Paris. The big 1952 movie hits were High Noon, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Moulin Rouge." And that’s only the beginning.

Let me give you a sample of one colorful character: Charlie Miller.

"Charlie Miller was a ragged little urchin that none of the kids in the neighborhood were allowed to play with. That’s because Charlie lived on another planet. He didn’t seem to have any rules, or at least he wasn’t aware that he did. He was a free spirit way before the ‘60s.

"All Hail! It was the Charlie’s of the world who invented the ‘60s.

"I never saw Charlie clean, and I always knew what he had for lunch because he wore the remnants of it on the front of him like a badge of honor. To Charlie, meals were an adventure, his mouth was a target, and his hands were the shooters. Every afternoon after lunch, a shimmering rainbow of juices and food particles could be seen dripping from his chin, sluicing down his shirt, pants, and even to his shoes. Ordinarily, shoes don’t draw flies, but Charlie’s did.

"He was tall for his age, and thin, almost to the point of emaciation (could there be a connection here with his eating habits?). His limbs were long and willowy, their motions first appearing discordant. A closer look revealed more ballet than brawn.
"He had unruly, sandy-brown hair, cut short, as if by a weed-whacker, and an impish grin, as integral to his character as the food on his shirt.

"He had a weak right eye. When he was lazy, agitated, or indifferent, it wandered about, not in cooperation with the left eye that locked on its subject like a mariner on Canopis. I found it disconcerting to carry on a direct conversation with Charlie while his good eye bored into me and the other danced around in search of a place to alight. The effect was even more unsettling when combined with his impish grin. But I got used to it by focusing on the good eye.

"And he would do anything for kicks, short of setting himself of fire (I take it back, he did that once).

"He was adventuresome to the point of recklessness. If you challenged Charlie to test the thin ice, he would do so. If you dared him to stomp on a cow-pie, you would lose the dare. If you bet him a nickel he wouldn’t bite into a cow-pie, you would be five cents lighter. ...

"He fancied himself a magician, claiming he could make a bullfrog disappear by the count of three. This, in fact, he accomplished by stuffing an M-80 firecracker down a bullfrog’s throat and counting out three hops before it dematerialized in a fine green mist. In Charlie’s world, an instantaneous change of state from solid to liquid was sufficient to constitute a disappearance."

This novel is well-written and well-edited and hopefully it will be picked up by a mainstream publisher so that Phil Gray’s writing talent can be enjoyed by more readers. If you’re looking for a story to brighten your day and lift your spirit, you won’t want to miss the adventures of Sonny Boy and his friends, Charlie and Pudgy.