cover image Never Back Down

Never Back Down

Ernest Hebert. David R. Godine, $24.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-56792-432-9

New England novelist Hebert (The Dogs of March) offers a stirring tale of two young boys and their lifetime friendship in this coming-of-age tale that begins in the summer of 1953 in rural New Hampshire. Young French-Canadian Jack Landry, son of a WWII veteran (and the novel’s narrator) befriends fatherless Elphege Beaupre, and the pair’s varied teenage adventures take them through baseball camp, a summer job at a textile mill, and first love—all while reinforcing their fearless credo to “never back down, never instigate.” Through the ’50s and ’60s, Jack excels in baseball, with a rookie stint with the Boston Red Sox; becomes distant from Elphege; and loses it all when he helps troubled girlfriend Alouette escape from a mental hospital. Time in the Army and a few odd jobs somehow reunite the two friends and Jack’s old flame Olympia, but nothing is ever the same again. Hebert’s homespun storytelling is a wonder to behold; the author’s measured prose, tender language, and universal themes of atonement and the bittersweet lessons of maturity shine through. His evocation of New England is spot-on, and his character development of the searching adolescence of two teen boys having the time of their lives creates wonderful reading that will cross generations as well as please Hebert’s many fans. (July)