Those of you who’ve been following my book reviews for a while have already learned that I like to read about people who are different from me in some way. Underneath all of our differences, I believe people are all intrinsically the same and I believe there is a basic goodness in human beings – the question is always how deep do you have to dig to find that goodness.
My desire to better understand our differences and how we’re the same is why I chose Dodgers by Bill Beverly. It is a coming-of-age novel, a thriller, a road-trip awakening, and a deep dive into LA gangs. Bottom line: It’s quite different from novels I normally read; however, having lived in Los Angeles for several decades, I am aware of the world Mr. Beverly writes about – at least in a peripheral way. Every once in a while I decide to explore that world in novels in an attempt to better understand it. I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly delved this deep into it before.
Bill Beverly’s work in Dodgers has been compared to J.D. Salinger’s and even Mark Twain’s novels. That’s not a comparison to make lightly; however, I think it’s appropriate in this case. The three of them may have written about different eras but all of these authors examine idealism vs disillusionment and all three reflect life and the decisions we make that shape it. And, yet, Bill Beverly’s work stands on its own merits. It is an eye-opening read on so many different levels, and one that’s unique to the 21st century while being timeless and universal, strangely enough.
One of you is going to win a copy of Dodgers, so let’s see if this dark, coming-of-age novel is one you’d like to dig into too.
East knows his job and he’s good at it. He counts himself lucky to have such a good life. He’s a yard manager in The Boxes, i.e., he manages a team of boys who are lookouts for one of his uncle’s drug houses. East knows how to keep the users from drawing undue attention to the house and how to keep his team of lookouts focused on their tasks, despite the long hours that can get boring. He knows what his uncle needs and he provides it out of intense loyalty and the desire to be the best at what he does.
“Fin was East’s father’s brother – not that anyone had ever introduced East to his father. Others knew this; sometimes they resented East for it, the protective benevolence he moved under. But it shaped their world too, the special care that was given him, his house, his crew…often he felt the quiet undertow of his uncle’s blood carrying him deeper into the waves.
Did he want to do this? It didn’t matter. It would provide. Did boys respect him because he could see a street and run a crew more tightly than anyone else, or because he was one of Fin’s favorites? It didn’t matter;…Was this a life that he’d be able to ride, or would he be drowned in it like other boys he’d kicked off his gang or seen bloody or dead in the street?
It didn’t matter.”
East’s life isn’t easy by any means. At night, he sleeps in an old abandoned place that is marginally safer than sleeping on the streets as long as no one discovers it. But he counts himself lucky to have that. His uncle protects him as long as he does the job he’s been assigned. He knows some of the other boys are jealous of his rapid rise in the ranks but he doesn’t feel like he’s been given anything – he’s earned his place and he knows he will only keep it as long as he continues to do a good job.
Now East is not alone in the world – kind of. He has a mother and he takes her money from time to time to help her out but he knows he can’t live there anymore. It’s too toxic to be in a place with no hope. He also has a younger brother, who left her long before he did, but he has no idea where his brother is. His brother has always been a little wild and he can only hope his brother is still alive somewhere.
And then one day East’s life goes belly up, and it happens so fast he can’t stop it. Some kids from Mississippi are visiting a family down the block from his Uncle Fin’s drug house and are getting too close for comfort. East tells a stubborn young girl that she can’t play there and to go back inside. He’s astonished that she’s so oblivious to the danger of playing out in the street in front of a drug house. She has an attitude the size of a mountain and refuses to listen to a word he says…and that attitude gets her killed right in front of him by cops – collateral damage, they’ll call it.
East’s team lookouts at the end of the blocks surrounding the house may have slacked off on their jobs, or have been bought off or killed or arrested. No matter the cause, the end result is the same – cops descend on the house. The yard boys, the users, and the staff inside the house all scatter like rats – some faster than others. Most make it out, but not all. East watches it all go down from a safe hiding place, horrified at how rapidly his world can come to an end. Even worse than that, he is stricken by how quickly the young visiting girl’s life has been snuffed out just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being too stubborn to listen to reason. He feels like it’s all his fault and “if only” ruminations begin to eat him alive.
“Losing the house – it was going to be on him. He owned the daytime boys; he owned their failure. He’d run the yard for two years, and he’d taught the lookouts, and until today everyone said he’d done it well. His boys knew their jobs; they came on time, they didn’t fight, they didn’t make noise. He could not see where it’d gone wrong. That girl – he shouldn’t have talked to her so long. Maybe she would have wandered off. He could have let Antoine muscle her a bit. She wound up dead anyhow.
What could he do? That many cops come to take a house, they’re gonna take it.”
When Fin orders him to meet to go over what happened, East firmly expects to be killed on the spot. His uncle’s operations have been severely crippled and East believes he is the one to blame for that. The code Fin lives by means the one at fault can’t be allowed to go free and must be punished. That means death; it’s the price East will have to pay. So you can imagine his shock when Fin doesn’t exact that price from him. Instead he demands a different price.
East must go to Wisconsin with his brother, who has turned assassin, and two other college-age men his uncle has appointed, and must kill a witness who could put his uncle away for life if he testifies. East accepts this as the reprieve it is, even though he has no desire to kill anyone, and gets nauseated just thinking about it. The other thing that turns his insides to jelly is the thought of leaving his Los Angeles barrio. He knows the rules in his part of Los Angeles but he knows nothing about how the rest of the country operates. It’s like an alien world out there. How will he manage to stay alive when he doesn’t know the rules?
How will this road trip shape who East becomes? What hard decisions will he make and what revelations will he have that will begin to reshape him?
East may be a gang member, he may live in what many would consider abject poverty, and he may not have much formal education, but he is very much an Everyman. Each person, when they begin to differentiate from the environment in which they were raised, has to make decisions that will change the rest of their lives. Those are always hard decisions, no matter who you are or how you were raised…and we always seem to have to make them at an age when we’re ill equipped to do so. East’s decisions may be more dramatic, and may involve life and death more literally; however, they are still coming-of-age decisions.
I had to wonder if East’s Uncle Fin knew he was putting East into a crossroads situation that would allow him to make the choices he made. East’s uncle may be a badass but, underneath it all, it’s obvious that Fin loves East and that is a saving grace. There are villains in this novel, and they aren’t always apparent. There are small-town bigots, there are huge family issues, and there are casual villains…all the stuff of real life. And there is East – always there is East…a character I won’t soon forget.
I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up Dodgers by Bill Beverly…maybe a baseball novel? I got so much more than I could ever have expected. Despite my penchant for reading thrillers, I actually abhor violence so you’re probably asking yourself what the hell was I doing reading a novel about gang members that is liberally peppered with violence on many different levels? I was putting myself into the shoes of someone who seems radically different from me on the surface but who, underneath it all, is not so different at a ground of being level…and I was doing that on purpose. I am always curious about what makes people tick and I found, in East, an amazing person well worth getting to know. Will you like Dodgers as much as I did? I don’t know, and I hope you do. If you think you might, be sure to enter our giveaway or order a copy below!
Can’t wait to read it? Dodgers is available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller, so just click on the link below to get it to read asap!
I’d love to get your comments on Dodgers , Bill Beverly, and/or this review.
One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance reading copy) of Dodgers by Bill Beverly!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 4/30/2016, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
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