3 out of 4 stars
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"'Those were the best days of my life.' They really were. And just like the words in the Bryan Adams song 'The Summer of '69,' I did buy my first six-string at a five-and-dime, and I did play it until my fingers bled. And we did have a band, and we did try real hard...However, that's where my story diverges from the song...Unlike the characters in the song, my Jimmy didn't quit, and my Joey didn't get married. In my life, they died. In fact, except for me, they all died. And I have never told the story before."
This is the compelling introduction to the novel Band in the Wind by William John Rostron, a tale surrounding the recovered journal of Johnny Cippitelli ("Johnny Cipp"), one of five young members of Those Born Free, a band out of Cambria Heights in Queens, New York. Johnny's journal, discovered after being washed up on a beach in 1990, details the story of the band he played in with four other young musicians in the late 1960s. With Jimmy McAvoy ("Jimmy Mac") on drums and vocals, Giovanni DeAngelis ("Gio") on rhythm guitar and vocals, Rocco Brackowski ("Bracko") on lead guitar and vocals, Joseph Tinley ("Tinman") on keyboard, and Johnny on bass, they possessed the talent, the will, and the work ethic to go far. Cambria Heights was rife with gangs, violence, and racism. A tough place to grow up, the boys saw music as their only way out to a better life and were willing to give it everything to get there. Alas, they never made it...
Rostron featured entries from Johnny's journal, which were conversational and candid. I really felt like I was journeying through life with a young Johnny as he and his friends formed their band and dealt with the issues in their lives. I felt the emotional connection Johnny had to the music, especially when someone put their heart and soul into playing a particular song. Each journal entry started with a song title from that era, which tied in thematically with that part of the story. Soon, I found myself swept up in the excitement as these young men found each other and their musical dreams started to come together.
The book also included historical background about Cambria Heights in Queens, New York, where Johnny and his friends grew up. I got a real sense of the issues of their adolescence, such as teen gangs and the racial division of the time. Blacks and whites lived in separate neighbourhoods and the penalties for encroaching into the other's territory were often severe. Some of the gang violence and the beatings administered to those of different skin colour were horrific.
Johnny Cipp's journal included some great foreshadowing of the tragedy to come while giving no spoilers about what it might be. This hook, which made me select this book in the first place, kept me reading all the way through the story. Though morbid, I just had to know what happened to these talented musicians to end their lives so young. In the end, as I suspected, Band in the Wind was an incredibly hard and gut-wrenching story to read, moving and powerful. I found the ending sad and emotionally draining, which I believe is the greatest mark of success for a story like this. Bringing your readers to the brink of tears is a true test of great character development, and Rostron succeeded admirably. Knowing these boys as well as I did by the end, I found it really tough to read about their deaths.
As for negatives, there were some typographical errors in the text, mainly missing or incorrect punctuation. There were also occasional incorrect words used, such as "discrete" for "discreet" and "passed" for "past." If not for these errors, I would definitely rate Band in the Wind 4 stars. It was a powerful and tragic story with fantastic character development and strong emotional involvement for the reader. Unfortunately, with the errors, I can only award it 3 out of 4 stars. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys coming-of-age stories about young people following their dreams against the odds, but I believe music lovers will definitely get something extra out of it, as I did.
Band in the Wind
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View the author's website at https://williamjohnrostron.com.
Band in the Wind is available from IngramSpark in both hardcover and paperback. Wholesale discounts are available for bookstores and web dealers of 35% to 40%.
Band in the Wind Hardcover - ISBN 9781732746824
Band in the Wind Softcover - ISBN 9781732746831
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