Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never Hug a Nun

Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen
Blank Slate Press, 12/8/12
Paperback, 182 pages
buy the book

From first crushes and cafeteria lines, hidden forts and secret passwords, learning the Cub Scout oath and robbing the Ben Franklin, to hanging out on the train tracks, running from the police, enduring stuffy classrooms and, of course, dodging projectile vomit, Never Hug a Nun laces the reader into the Keds of young Patrick Cantwell—a boy who really wants to be good, but who, like his hero The Wolfman, always seems to fall short.
Set in Webster Groves in 1966, the story takes readers on a laughing, head-shaking, I-remember-doing-that-stuff ride through the rigors of practicing good penmanship, the rites of spring kickball, unsupervised summer days filled with Velvet Freeze daydreams of starting a band at least as good as The Beatles, and, finally, to those dying seconds when a boy reaches out bravely to hold the 220-volt live wire of a girl’s hand.

My Thoughts:
The title comes from a time when Patrick Cantwell tells us in Never Hug a Nun, "She seemed like she wanted to hug him, so he quickly stuck his arm out straight to shake hands with her from a distance. It was his general policy to never hug a nun. (Location 697-698)"

Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen recounts the life of Patrick Cantwell through his first grade year and into second grade at Mary Queen of Our Hearts Catholic School. It is 1966 in Webster Groves, Missouri. Patrick secretly pines after a girl in his class, Ebby Hamilton, but is too shy to declare his love. It is during the time the Beatles are taking America by storm, including Patrick's older brother, John. The Parish moms are all reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and gluing green stamps into books. The dads all work downtown. In Webster Groves boys will be boys - this includes Patrick and John, who struggle to sell Parish raffle tickets, have an encounter with a railroad cop, experience some disgusting bathroom antics and experience an encounter with law enforcement.
Never Hug a Nun is humorous even as it tackles the extremely serious thought processes of the young protagonist. The chapters are short, very much reflecting the feeling of an older child recounting his memories of events in his childhood. The jump from family events to school events flowed naturally, as a child's life flows freely from school to family events to summers. It is well written and felt like a real memoir to me. It could be that growing up in the 1960's in the Midwest simply made the characters very real to me because I knew these kids, or kids like them. I can remember being in the first grade around this same time period, and going over to a friends house where his older sister was constantly playing Beatles records. I can remember being able to run around much more freely than it would be prudent to allow any child to do today.
I also enjoyed Kevin Killeen's blog entry from December 9th:

"...Kind people, many of whom left dishes in the sink, ventured out to get a copy of the novel at Charlie Brennan’s Fontbonne Book of the Month Club taping Nov 27, at the KMOX Holiday Radio Show Dec 3, and at the Webster Groves Book Shop Dec 8.
Many of the men whispered confessions of their own delinquent past as they purchased the book, then hid it under arm and hurried to their car.  Most touching was the procession of parish mothers, some of whom remember the author as a “troubled student,” purchasing two or three copies to impress upon their grand children the dangers of going the wrong way...."
I really enjoyed this short novel and would very highly recommend it.
Even though I had a Advanced Reading Copy from Netgalley for my Kindle, I need to quote the following conversation in the book:

“You’re going to sleep in your underwear?”
“Yeah,” John said, getting out his transistor radio. “I want to sleep naked, to get a really good night sleep like Tarzan, but Mom caught me trying it and said I have to at least wear underwear.”
“She said it’s a sin to have nudity.”
“What’s nudity?”
“It’s when you don’t wear underwear.”
Patrick lay on his back and looked at the ceiling. “Once, when I couldn’t find any underwear, I went to school with nudity under my pants.”
“That’s not nudity. That’s just stoo-piddy.” (Location 320-324)

Read the first chapter: Excerpt

A reporter with KMOX radio since 1995, Kevin Killeen has confused listeners for the past ten years with his regular morning feature, A Whole ‘nother Story. Killeen has also authored the KMOX Holiday Radio Show, an original comic play with a holiday theme, for the past 15 years or so. In Never Hug a Nun, Killeen attempts to escape his declining faculties, by casting his mind back to the days of his youth when he spent long summer days on the train tracks or hanging out at the Velvet Freeze and wishing he were a teenager.
A 1982 graduate of UMSL, Killeen studied fiction writing under comic novelist David Carkeet who corrupted him with thoughts of getting published someday. Married with four children, Killeen enjoys asking his kids — again — to please, pick up their shoes, moving the sprinkler around a dying lawn, and going to garage sales on Saturday with his mother.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes and I was happy to also join the TLC book tour. 
The TLC tour schedule

The giveaway has ended and a winner has been chosen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! Patrick sounds like one smart (and entertaining) kid!

Thanks for being on the tour.