The Boys of Summer by Ciaran West will destroy you and make you tremedously uncomfortable, and I mean that as high praise. It's rare that a book will get so under your skin that you think about it when it's not in front of you, and this one will do that. Set in Limerick in the 80s, this is the story of 11 year old (nearly 12) Richie South and his friends, in a very...eventful...summer of their youth. Tragedy strikes the neighborhood when a child is found raped and murdered - this isn't a spoiler, but rather a point upon which most of the novel revolves, even though it's often indirect. Richie and his friends want to figure out who did it and bring them to justice, in a way many a small or teenaged boy has wanted in fiction for, well, pretty much ever. If you are thinking of Stand By Me right now, don't, other than to appreciate the fact that both involve coming of age stories of boys during summers with some darkness surrounding them.
Richie is our narrator, and it's a wonderful challenge to read from his perspective. The whole of the book is written in Limerick dialect, slang and all, but I found this a help rather than a hindrance. It brought me more fully into the world of these boys when I could use their vocabulary, even if I had to look some of it up. I will say that most of my discomfort came from seeing through his eyes and into his head - as an adult, and a woman at that, seeing into the mind of an 11 year old boy was...I don't know a good word for it. Unsettling? There's a lot more adult in there mixed with all the kid stuff that I wasn't prepared for. Reading about his first romance with the new neighbor girl, Marian, made me acutely uncomfortable, both because they were so young, and because I could remember BEING that young (and at his age, that was soo not where my mind was yet).
Richie is exactly as mixed up as you'd expect from a young boy on the verge of puberty, experiencing love, loss, and the complications of friendship for the first time. This last is, perhaps, the best facet of the book for me. I loved reading the dynamics of these boys, especially as I watched them see what any adult would about one of their friends. There is a scene between Richie and his father near the end of the novel that is one of the most brilliant parent/child conversations I've ever read. The parent/child relationships in this book are great overall. Richie and his Mam are wonderful, and such a contrast to Marian and hers, or Joe and his Pa. There's so much going on here, and it's explored with a light hand that lets you really see it the way the kids do, but be able to read beyond it with the eyes of an adult.
Really, this is a great novel and incredibly well written. If you are weak stomached or don't like reading books that challenge your comfort level, you might want to leave off. It is dark, and gets much darker than you expect as it goes along. The end is, for me, incredibly unsatisfying, but I'm fairly certain that is the point - most real endings are.