Wednesday, June 26, 2013


When YA Guy was a YA Guy....

That doesn't sound right.

What I mean is, when YA Guy was a young guy reading YA and dreaming about writing it, instead of a somewhat older guy reading it and living the dream, my favorite book was Don Robertson's 1970 The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened.

I think it was the first true YA I'd ever read.

Sure, I'd read a lot of Judy Blume books. But they'd be classified more as MG these days: their protagonists were middle school students whose family lives were their main concern and whose romantic entanglements were mostly day-dreamed, not experienced.

Robertson's book was a family drama, sure. It was about a kid growing up in 1950s Cleveland, Morris Bird III, who was diagnosed with leukemia and had a very short time to patch things up with his distant father.

But it was also a book about high school. About romantic love. About the absurdity of life (and death). And about sex.

And it was written in a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek third person that felt perfect to me as the voice of a teenage boy. Here's how the novel begins:

The boy's name was, ahem, Morris Bird III, which was ridiculous, and you didn't have to tell him it was ridiculous. He was seventeen, and his complexion was awful. He was a Democrat, and so he did not like Richard M. Nixon's dog, the sainted Checkers. For that matter, he did not care a hell of a lot about Richard M. Nixon either. He was very skillful at galloping up the DOWN escalator in the Higbee department store on the Public Square, located smack in the heart of gorgeous Cleveland. He also was very skilled at galloping down the UP escalator. This all embarrassed Julie Sutton a great deal. Julie Sutton was his girl, and she thought her feet were too big, and in December of 1952 she had a Christmas job at Higbee's. She wrapped presents. She was as skillful at wrapping presents as he was at defeating the escalators.

Through my teen years, I read this book over and over and over. It's in tatters now, but I still have it on my bookshelf. Every so often I'll open it again and read a few pages, just to rediscover what spoke so strongly to me when I was a teen.

I don't know if anyone is still reading Robertson's book. It was made into a TV movie with Jimmy (J. J.) Walker at the height of his popularity (hence the cover image you see above), and that probably was not a good thing, since the Good Times star was utterly incapable of conveying either the gravity or the hilarity of Robertson's fictional creation. For all I know, that made-for-TV movie might have killed its far superior inspiration.

I do find on Amazon, however, that a 2009 reprint is available.

So here's what YA Guy would advise: run, don't walk, to your nearest indie bookstore and/or mega-chain and/or computer terminal and get yourself a copy.

Me, I'll keep my original on the bookshelf.

And I'll open it again and again and again, and rediscover each time what my younger self already knew.

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