4 out of 4 stars
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The Whistle Stop by Bob Higginbotham is a fictional coming-of-age story centered on Dale Wickenhoffer (Wick) and his gang of friends. The setting is rural Mississippi during the turbulent 1960’s. Having moved to a new community at the age of ten, Wick quickly identified with the local country boys who would become his cohorts in adventure and life-long friends. I expected an entertaining tale of light-hearted fun and youthful escapades. Indeed, there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments along the way, but I was surprised by so much more. Intertwined with Wick’s personal story is a mystery. Shad Brady is somewhat of a hero to the gang, always taking time to talk with them and being concerned for their welfare. But Shad harbors a mysterious past. He had a family at one time but always dodged the subject when asked about them. Now the FBI have shown up looking for Shad and asking questions. What was Shad hiding? What happened to his family? Wick and his gang are intent upon finding the answers and coming to the aid of their trusted mentor and friend.
There were several things that I appreciated about this book. First, Higginbotham has done a masterful job of capturing the confusion and excitement that adolescent boys experience. Since he uses the first-person style of narration, the reader gets a peek into the mind of a young boy who is “chock full of hormones with a taste for adventure” and has an occasional “deficit of common sense.” The humor he employed kept me interested in the story. In addition, Higginbotham surprised me with several instances of figurative language in the midst of what is primarily simple, straightforward language often presented through dialogue. For example: “I was an ice cube in Death Valley” is how Wick describes himself at a vulnerable, deer-in-the-headlights moment. Finally, I was pleased at the values portrayed in Wick’s family. He had a praying mom and a loving, involved dad who modeled and taught honesty and trustworthiness.
The pacing of the story is an area that I felt could be improved. The beginning was an introduction to the boys and a sampling of their adventures. The plotline of the mystery did not get fully underway until midway through the book. From there, the pace really picked up and I was fully engaged with getting my questions answered until the end. The second concern I had while reading was the rather serious content in the plot for what appears at first glance to be a light-hearted and fun yarn. I will refrain from sharing details so as not to reveal spoilers, but beware that kidnapping, murder, gang-rape, and death are involved, though not explicitly described.
Wick’s character undergoes a transformation as the story progresses, as would be expected from a coming-of-age story. From a child at the age of ten to a married adult at the age of twenty-five, the reader witnesses him move from an age of innocence to one of mature accountability.
The Whistle Stop appears to have been professionally edited as I found very few errors which were hardly worth mentioning. Despite the uneven pacing and the serious content in the midst of youthful mischief, I award 4 out of 4 stars. The realistic (and humorous) portrayal of adolescent boys in a rural town in the 60’s was done with excellence. I recommend this book to older teenagers and adults who love boys and their adventures, or anyone who enjoys watching a mystery unfold. To those who are sensitive to kidnapping, murder, or rape, you may want to pass on this one.
The Whistle Stop
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