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Little Beasts by Matthew McGevna
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Little Beasts

by Matthew McGevna

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
McGevna sets the stage for small town drama but it was a little slow for my liking. The characters were rich with detail but didn't draw me into their story. The writing itself is lyrical and engaging, but the plot didn't hold my attention. ( )
  Jenxy21 | Jun 24, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Set in a little town on Long Island in the early 80s, Matthew McGevna's debut novel Little Beasts tells the story of a group of adolescents whose stories cross paths in the worst way possible. Basing his story loosely on an event that occurred in Suffolk County in 1979, McGevna very effectively dramatizes the effects of small-town dynamics and the Cold War on a burgeoning youth.

In 1979, a boy named John Pius (written into this novel as Dallas Darwin, whose father is a minister) went missing one night when he rode his bike over to the local elementary school. He was discovered in the woods nearby the school the next day, covered in leaves and branches, with six rocks lodged in his throat. He had been chased and beaten then murdered by four older neighborhood boys who, influenced by alcohol and drugs, believed that John had witnessed them stealing a bike and would rat them out. McGevna has tweaked this, but the dramatized crime is no less heartbreaking or gruesome.

The novel focuses mainly on three friends - Dallas (mentioned above), and his friends James Illworth (whose father is the town drunk) and Felix Cassidy (whose older brother eclipses him as a big-shot football player). With summer winding down, and with little else to do, the boys scamper about town, hiding in the weeds while watching the cops carry out an eviction, or going into the woods and stealing another group of kids' fort supplies, etc. Their story is countered by that of David - an older boy, a teenager, who plays into the town's feelings of him as an outsider after he paints a controversial mural, but who still looks for approval from his parents, the girl he loves, and his classmates.

Anyone who was ever a teenager will identify with David. He's the most sympathetic character in the story. And he's our killer. Driven to his act by his parents' disregard, his classmates' constant abuse, and what he perceives as his girlfriend's wandering eye (to wit, with Felix's older brother) the build-up to the attack is, dramatically speaking, justifiable. Of course the fact that he is a persecuted character prior to the act does not lessen David's crime, but when I got to that point in the story I was beside myself and crying - not so much for the victims (in the story, all three boys are attacked by David and two others, but only Dallas meets John Pius' fate), but for David, both as he reaches his boiling point, and as he struggles to bring himself back when it's too late.

The story has shades of Stephen King's "The Body" (on which the film Stand by Me is based), but even more interestingly resembles Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes in which the character of Peter is certainly driven to a much darker place by comparison, but in which we see and understand the unchecked emotional abuse and are meant to understand, empathize and, eventually, forgive. The real-life perpetrators of the crime against John Pius in 1979 were certainly not saints, but given the illustration of David as a kid crying for help in a town that turned its back on him, one cannot help but consider that they were all children once, too.

www.theliterarygothamite.com ( )
  laurscartelli | Mar 26, 2016 |
Little Beasts by Matthew McGevna is a highly recommended novel loosely based on a real story.

Eight year olds James Illworth, Dallas Darwin, and Felix Cassidy are doing what any kids would do in the summer of 1983 in Turnbull, a working-class Long Island town. They watch an eviction. They assign themselves characters to play Star Wars. They find a stray dog as a mascot. They play in the woods by their houses. They plan to steal fort building materials from another gang of kids (and get into a fight). They try to appease the adults in their lives, answer if their mothers yell for them, and avoid the sullen, angry teens that always seem to be hanging out. They are busy children, serious about their friendship and playing with each other.

David Westwood is hanging out with his friends, other 15 year old teens. David is a budding artist, but finds himself at odds with others at his high school. Other students have given him the nickname "Red" and have accused him of hating America and being a Communist. David doesn't agree with their assessment, but he plays the role. Although he has a group of friends, he is really a loner, trying to fit in, looking for acceptance. He pines for Julia, who may or may not be his girlfriend.

While our group of eight year olds has a horrible fight with other kids, the teens are struggling with their own social issues. The next day the two groups meet with fatal results.

McGevna does a great job describing the feelings of the kids out and about, trying to stay out of the way of trouble and doing their own busy work of being children in the summer. When the view switches to the teens, he also manages to capture the bullying and teen angst David is experiencing. Although it is well written and the inner workings and pitfalls that must be avoided in both the lives of the kids and the teens is clearly portrayed, I wasn't sure exactly where the novel was heading. There is a lot of lead up to the tragedy, which doesn't happen until you are well into the second half of the book.

In the end this is a fine summer novel or a great airplane book. It will keep you reading, the writing and descriptions are great, and, although you have to wait a bit too long for the horrible turn of events to happen, McGevna skillfully handles the subsequent aftermath.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Akashic Books for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were well done and believable. It was a quick and entertaining read. ( )
  sjurban | Nov 3, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Loosely based on a true story, this book makes for one gripping read. I couldn't put it down! Loved getting caught up in this chilling and heartbreaking story. Talk about a great suspense-thriller read!! ( )
  bagambo | Nov 2, 2015 |
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