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Never hug a nun by Kevin Killeen

Never hug a nun (edition 2012)

by Kevin Killeen

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125768,668 (3.8)2
Title:Never hug a nun
Authors:Kevin Killeen
Info:Saint Louis, MO : Blank Slate Press, 2012.
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Never Hug a Nun by Kevin Killeen



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In a cleverly crafted story full of reminiscence Kevin Killeen brings us back to the life of a seven-year old, full of humor, memories and humanity these vignettes provide a stunning and revealing sense of the world through a child’s eyes.

Written as a series of vignettes, each scene is cleverly detailed with a balance of humor and observation that feel child-like both in length and in questions addressed with each situation. Touching on boys and girls, family, catholic school, friends and even the neighborhood, this story manages to give a solid feel of the middle-class 1960’s America, while managing to never lose the edge of the story of a young boy.

I am not familiar with this author’s other work, but this book has definitely made me a fan. With a writing style that manages to both inform and engage, bring laughter at specific situations, and present detail and a more personal view in a way that feels all-encompassing to the reader, this was truly a winner.

I received an eBook copy from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
( )
  IamIndeed | Mar 29, 2013 |
Patrick Cantwell is a first-grader at Mary Queen of Our Hearts Catholic school in Webster Groves MO in 1966. He learns about love, loss, transformation, and stealing. If you went to a parochial school in St. Louis in the 1960's, you will find a lot of memories in this book. From First Confession and First Holy Communion to the Beatles at Busch Stadium, to Vatican II and his Aunt Jenny who is a novice nun, it's just a fun frolic. ( )
  tloeffler | Jan 31, 2013 |
When you think back on your childhood, you probably remember the goofy stunts you pulled, the fun, the innocence, and the joy. If you were like me, you wanted to please your parents and your teachers, get good grades, and play with your friends. If you were anything like Kevin Killeen's main character, Patrick Cantwell, in his short novel Never Hug a Nun, you wanted these things but somehow, despite your best efforts, you frequently fell short.

Set in the 1960s in St. Louis, this novel has the feel of a memoir told in vignettes to it. When the story opens, Patrick is at the end of first grade at Mary Queen of Our Hearts Catholic School, the middle of three boys. He's the one who wants terribly to be good but he's so concerned with keeping up with his older brother John and showing his devotion to the beautiful, blonde Ebby Hamilton that he ignores his own conscience and gets himself into trouble more often than not. Peer pressure surely bites him in the butt every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Along with his brother John (but not younger brother Teddy, who has been a little more fragile since a bout with meningitis), and the neighborhood kid every parent wishes their child would steer clear of, Patrick gets up to all sorts of mischief, naughty antics and eventually even actual stealing that gets him arrested. They boys are smoking, jumping in front of freight trains, throwing tomatoes at buses, and dreaming up ways to get the money for a drum kit so they can start a band like the Beatles.

What starts out as a sweet novel about the innocence of childhood in a simpler time turns into snapshots from the life of a precocious, well-meaning deliquent of a child. Killeen has certainly captured the feel of parochial school, the changing Catholic church of the time, and the way in which the church was part of the very fabric of daily life for the devout very well. He's also done a lovely job with a childhood first crush, showing the embarrassment and the conflicting emotions that such a crush meant in elementary school. And his depiction of a father who goes downtown to work every day to support his family despite the monotonous boredom of his job and a mother who maintains the home because it is her expected sphere is spot on, especially for the mid '60s. The plot narrative here is very episodic and doesn't really have a discernible climax, rather it's simply one year in Patrick's life. As a character, Patrick seems to mean well but makes every poor decision in the book. And he also seems to be more of a deliquent than is normal or average for a 7 or 8 year old boy, even one growing up in a time when parents allowed their children to run free all day without today's stifling supervision. Killeen is clearly funny and there are moments that cause a chuckle in the book but there needs to be a bit more of a story to sustain the book. It's a quick, nostalgic read, especially for parochial school kids who have fond (or not so fond) memories of the nuns and priests and fellow Catholic school friends who peopled their childhoods. ( )
  whitreidtan | Dec 23, 2012 |
Maybe it's because my mother-in-law gave my younger son a similar coat with lollipops taped on them to bring to preschool on his birthday that I can't resist this cover. And that grin; this may be one of the most perfect book covers ever.

Killeen wrote Never Hug a Nun, a comic novel set in a St. Louis suburb in 1966 in the voice of eight-year-old Patrick Cantwell. Patrick is in the second grade at Mary, Queen of Our Hearts School and has a ten-year-old brother John (who wants to be a Beatle and start a band) and younger brother Teddy (who likes sports and hates green beans). Mom loves to listen to big band music while she irons and Dad works downtown, a goal for which all of the nuns encourage the boys to strive.

Patrick has a crush on golden haired Ebby, and he is consumed with trying to be near her. Patrick and John have a friend Kurt who is "a bad influence" on the Cantwell boys. Kurt has a secret fort near the railroad tracks and he has ideas about stealing money to buy a drum set so they can start a band, like the Beatles. As a mother of two grown sons, I can tell you that Kurt is the boy we all pray our kids will not hang around.

This novel brought back many memories for me; the scene where Patrick's mom glues Green Stamps into books immediately put me back in my childhood kitchen where my mom would do the same thing, hoping to have enough to get a toaster or a lamp. I could almost smell the Green Stamp glue as I read.

I too went to Catholic school, and know well many of the nuns and monsignors from Patrick's school. I smiled at the scene where the nun washed the blackboard with the sponge; it was an honor to be asked to wash the blackboard at my school. And the constant reminders by the monsignor to get out there and sell those raffle tickets for the car? Yep, been there many times.

I like the well-drawn adult characters in this novel. Grandpa loves his grandkids and takes them to a Beatles concert, even though he knows nothing about the Beatles. Oh yeah, and he accidentally gets a little stoned and arrested, but whose Grandpa hasn't done that?

Aunt Jenny is studying to be a nun, with some reservations. She has a sweet relationship with Patrick and I was glad to see that she returns for a few scenes at the end of the book. I think she warrants her own story, and would like to see her in her own book.

Mom and Dad are interesting too. Dad hates dragging himself "downtown" everyday to work, but he loves his family and that is what a good dad does. I love that he tells his sons that they can tell him anything, and he proves that later in the story. Mom adores her husband and sons, but would like to add a daughter to their family. She desires to be a good Catholic family.

As the only female in our family, I find books written from the male point of view fascinating. I always learn something. But I did not need to learn what goes on in the boys' bathroom at school; that scene just had me shaking my head- what is up with boys? And many is the time I wanted to say to Patrick- NO! Stop and think for a second, son.

Patrick will probably grow up to be a protagonist in a Jonathan Tropper or Jess Walter book; fans of This Is Where I Leave You and The Financial Lives of Poets are the perfect audience for this book. Kileen bills Never Hug a Nun as a comic novel, but it has a lot of heart too. ( )
  bookchickdi | Dec 12, 2012 |
If you grew up Catholic in the 1950-60s Midwest, you probably lived this book. Patrick lives in a reasonably normal St. Louis family. We follow him for a little less than a year and see all the trouble he can get into over the summer.

Reasonably well-written, but not great. This is not great literature, but it was not a waste of time. ( )
  dougbq | Dec 9, 2012 |
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Written with a keen sense of comic timing, this novel is a sweet, laugh-out-loud look at the innocence of childhood in the leafy Webster Groves suburbs of 1960s Saint Louis. From falling for a girl with no-good-for-sports stick arms and beautiful penmanship to jumping freight trains, smoking cigarettes, robbing the local Ben Franklinand, in his spare time, trying to get to heavenPatrick Cantwell is learning all about life at Mary Queen of Our Hearts parochial school. By the time Patrick graduates second grade he's practically a grown-up, complete with a broken heart, a police record, and memories of the Beatles at Busch Stadium.… (more)

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