Book Review: "Jedi Summer With the Magnetic Kid" by John Boden
"Jedi Summer with The Magnetic Kid" by John Boden
CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016
In the interest of full disclosure, I must inform you that I've been "online" friends with John Boden for a number of years now. We first met on a message board for heavy metal nerds, and though we've never actually met in person I have a feeling we'd get along fine if we did. We're roughly the same age, and we both share an obsessive love for the detritus of '70s and '80s pop culture -- the music, the TV shows, and especially the cheap B-grade horror movies of the era, which were always way scarier when you watched'em on a small TV screen via well-worn, washed-out VHS cassettes rented from a Mom-and-Pop video store. We're children of the '80s and proud of it, dammit!
John is also an aspiring horror author, and a pretty damn good one, it would seem. After contributing a number of short stories to small-press horror anthologies over the past few years, John "went solo" for the first time in 2015 with Dominoes, a so-called "Little Horror Book" whose packaging cleverly, deceptively mimicked the style of a classic Little Golden children's book. Dominoes was an end-of-the-world tale that racked up near-universal great reviews (shamefully, I have yet to read it so I can't claim responsibility for any of those raves ) and the response to it gave John the kick in the butt he needed to attempt a longer format work. The result is his first novella, intriguingly titled Jedi Summer with The Magnetic Kid, which was released in 2016 via Post Mortem Press.
John was kind enough to send me a digital advance copy of Jedi Summer some time ago and though it took WAY longer than it should have, I finally gave it two solid read-throughs before firing up the review machine. Jedi Summer was a first for me on several levels: it was the first time an author asked lil' ol' me for a review of his work, and it was also my first experience with reading an "electronic book" of any kind. Fortunately, both experiences were positive ones.
The front cover of Jedi Summer sparks the fires of '80s nostalgia immediately, as it resembles a worn-out school notebook cover, complete with an English teacher's name scrawled in the upper right corner, some faded "scratch and sniff" stickers and a prominent "VAN HALEN RULEZ!" graffiti to the left of the book's title (yes, they do!). However, Jedi Summer is no warm-and-fuzzy memoir or heartwarming coming-of-age tale. Though the slim volume does have its moments of tenderness and gentle humor, there's always something disturbing waiting around the corner, waiting to sucker punch you any time you start to get too comfortable...
Jedi Summer is narrated by 13-year old "Johnny," a long-haired rocker, horror-movie addict and aspiring writer growing up in a rural Pennsylvania town with his divorced Mom and his younger brother Roscoe (age 7). Both boys are well-drawn and instantly likable from the start. We've all known kids just like these. Hell, some of us were kids just like these.
It's the summer of 1983 and like all boys, Johnny and Roscoe are Star Wars fanatics - the story's title comes from the summer-long anticipation of waiting for Return of the Jedi to finally arrive at the local-yokel movie theater. The idyllic, all-things-are-possible setting has a dark side, however, which the boys learn along the way to their summer-ending rendezvous with Luke Skywalker. Johnny and Roscoe are alone most of the time due to Mom's working three jobs to keep them afloat, so they spend their days riding their bikes, visiting with friends and family, and getting into trouble (you know, the kind of things that kids used to do "back in the day" instead of being glued to electronic devices 24-7.) During their travels, Johnny and Roscoe have a number of bizarre experiences - from discovering a dead man hanging in the woods, encountering a real-life bovine horror, and witnessing a Ferris wheel disaster at the local carnival, to name just a few. Adding some background spice to these tales, it seems that both Johnny and Roscoe have a sensitivity to supernatural goings-on -- which may explain why young Roscoe is referred to as "The Magnetic Kid," but I will leave that explanation for the reader to discover. In the end, Jedi Summer isn't a story about two fanboys on a journey through the lazy, hazy days of summer - it's the story of a boy who's on the verge of becoming a young man, and realizing that by the end of this season, nothing will ever be the same again.
Boden's writing style is a solid, entertaining mixture of heartfelt prose and creepy-crawly gross-outs (the bit involving an unfortunate cow is heartbreaking and hilariously disgusting in equal measure), peppered with obscure rock lyrics (I defy you to name another horror writer who's quoted "Summerland" by King's X to kick off a chapter!) and references to '80s pop culture touchstones like Duran Duran, MTV, "Galaga," and The Boogens.
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The series of vignettes in Jedi Summer are a satisfying read by themselves, but at the same time, I found myself wanting to know more about all the weird goings-on in this little town, and why Johnny and Roscoe seem to have a knack for winding up smack in the middle of them. The concepts introduced in Jedi Summer could easily be expanded into a much longer, more involved piece of work if Boden were up to it, and I hope he does this sometime in the near future. How'bout it, John?
Jedi Summer with The Magnetic Kid is a vastly enjoyable period piece that should appeal to fans of Stephen King's The Body (aka Stand By Me) or Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life. Not only is this the kind of stuff I love to read, it's the kind of stuff I wish I could write.
Nice work, Mr. Boden. Thanks for giving me the privilege of a sneak peek. I promise not to take so long to read your next one!
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© 2016 Keith Abt