"...I'm reviewing an interesting throwback to the 1950s which I think can best be described as Stand by Me
mixed with The Outsiders
twisted by a sense of humor and adventure unique to this author. The book I'm reviewing in this post is The
by Jim Lindsay. As with each decade since the turn of the twentieth century, growing up in the 1950s was an experience unlike any other, even more so in logging and other
rural areas away from the big cities. No war to suffer through and the Great Depression come and gone, it was a time to be wild and push the limits—unfortunately, some limits are there for a
reason, and pushing them can have unintended consequences. The Little Bastards
takes the reader through the teenaged years of Sonny Mitchell and his
close group of friends, appropriately nicknamed "The Little Bastards". From bicycles to hot rods, corpses to girls, and chump change to summer jobs, this book follows the transformation of
these boys into blue-collar young men. Along the way, readers get to watch as The Little Bastards' personalities change as well as their interests. Some loosen up, some fall in love, and
some reveal a side to themselves that no one knew they had, maybe not even them. All the while, Lindsay reveals what it was like to grow up in the 50s, including some of the stupid sh*t that
boys would do. For The Little Bastards, as their risk-taking gets wilder and their need for adventure and rebellion grow, so do their brushes with danger, until it all but becomes too much
for anyone to handle.
The first element of this book which caught me off-guard was the seamless way in which Jim Lindsay wrote in the colloquial style of a boy growing up in that decade. Of course, it
probably helped that he grew up during that time himself. I didn't know some of the terms used, given that I wasn't even born for four more decades, but they're easy to figure out from
context. (Anything I couldn't figure out I could just look up on Google.)
Still, keeping true to such a voice also meant saying a lot of things which might make some readers uncomfortable. Mostly, the boys swear a lot and use phrases which are not
considered "appropriate" nowadays. No big deal for some readers, but a really big deal for others. (I, for one, expect it, especially in a book about this time period.) The swearing also
adds even more humor to the tale than there already is, along with some of the other colloquialisms you would probably not say in polite company. Jake's explanation of Sonny's erection, for
example, had me all but bursting out laughing, but I doubt you'd want to use the phrase "lover's balls" in mixed company.
Lindsay also develops a wide range of three-dimensional, dynamic characters that I couldn't help but fall in love with. They certainly deserve their nickname, mind you, but it's in
an almost endearing way. Each of these little bastards have strong, individual personalities and histories which add depth to their character. For me, among the most memorable in the group
were Joe, the tough SOB who was practically left to fend for himself due to a bad home life; Billy, the leader of the group as well as the most academic, the only one with plans to go to
college; Johnny, the youngest and most gullible in the group, eager to please; Miles, a quiet guy with a beast inside that even his friends don't expect; and my personal favorite, Archie,
the son of a mortician with a grim sense of humor. Sonny is also quite the character, a risk-taker but also hardworking and rather valiant when he wants to be. They each border on stereotype
at first, but it doesn't take long for Lindsay to turn that idea on its head.
The escalation in the costs of their risk-taking had me on the edge of my seat. The narrative grows darker as the boys get older and the risks become more…daring, but, for the most
part, the humor still remains to alieve some of the tension. This escalation was aided to an increasing emotional investment in these characters; honestly, I felt as though I could've been
reading the journal of one of my mom's older cousins. The voice and strong character development made it easy for me to become emotionally attached. In fact, sometimes the line between fact
and fiction became minimal as everything that happened seemed possible. The result: an even stronger reaction to the boys' misfortunes.
The ending left me surprised. In a way, I'm glad that it didn't get as dark as it could have. On the other hand, it also left me stunned. I felt as though Lindsay could have easily
kept on telling Sonny's stories and I wouldn't have gotten bored of them. Still, with a show-stopping conclusion like this, it probably would've been pretty hard to top it. Unfortunately,
that's all I can say without giving away too many spoilers.
I noticed a couple minor proofreading errors, but no more than is acceptable in a professionally-published novel.
Overall, The Little Bastards
by Jim Lindsay is a great book. It's funny, engaging, and gripping. Frankly, I think it captures the era
perfectly, at least from a teenager's perspective, and I think that would make it perfect for anyone interested in that time period. For those who aren't, the characters are entertaining and
well-developed, and the situations—all of which are like short stories themselves—will pull you in anyway. There's nothing better than a couple of fourteen-year-olds getting the crud scared
out of them inside a funeral home!
You can buy The Little Bastards by Jim Lindsay as an eBook or in print on Amazon
"If you have hot rodding in your blood and/or started smoking butts in your early teens, the cover of the book will grab you. The photo was taken by William Gedney in Leatherwood, Kentucky,
back in 1964, a decade after The Little Bastards
begins. And although the book is set in the small town of Willamette, Oregon, Gedney's image of the
bad boys lighting up—notice they are using the car's dash lighter—works just fine.
"I like The Little Bastards
. Is it great
literature ala Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim? Does it compare favorably with the coming-of-age novel J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye? As far as Conrad goes, the answer is no. But the world of
literature is blessed with, really, only a handful of geniuses, and readers are not always looking for something complex, deep troubling, and obscure. And because high school teachers of
English are fond of teaching it, Salinger's book has acquired over time the aura of a sacrosanct classic, but it is much overrated. If I were forced to pick either Catcher or Bastards to
reread, I would go with the latter. And as much as I am fond of Henry Gregor Felsen's novel Hot Rod, which is similar in style, theme and intention, again Lindsay comes out ahead. Bastards
is the story of Sonny, his friends, their escapades, their interactions with each other, their families, their school, the police and the small Oregon town they call home. The story begins
when Sonny is fourteen, he and his friends riding bicycles, and ends when Sonny, he and his friends driving hopped-up, hunkered-down cars, becomes a senior in high school.
"Before going further, let's dispense with the book's few problems. Overall the grammar holds up—and who today concerns themselves with the correct usage of "further" and "farther" (p. 193)?
If there are typographical errors, I did not catch them. A few anachronisms surface, however: When thinking of the relationship between fathers and sons, I doubt if Sonny would have used the
term "micromanage," and, because of the time the novel is set in, Sonny could not have made a reference to The Beach Boys. And there are times when the dialog just doesn't quite ring true
for an Oregon teenager wearing Levi's, leather boots, a brown bomber jacket, and a white Penny's tee-shirt: "It was common to for rich folk to ride around in private cars, especially big
shots from the railroad hierocracy" [emphasis added]. Would Sonny, even internally, come up with "The whole conglomeration that was running amuck in our brain matter was about to explode"?
But these all slide by mostly unobtrusively. The flow is interrupted only slightly, and the story is strong enough to ride over these speed bumps and keep on going.
"The Little Bastards
is episodic but Lindsay manages well the progression and as the last few chapters unfold, a story line emerges that brings the book to
a satisfying close. The episodes work—from the clubhouses and mischief of fourteen-year-old boys, the Halloween spent in a mortuary, the trip from Oregon to Mexico, the various drag races,
to Sonny falling hard for a girl he knows he must look after. Whatever devilment the little bastards devise, it is never cruel or wantonly destructive, never coldblooded or ugly. And here
lies the charm of the book: There is a sweetness woven through it. Sonny's folks are good people. The understanding Sonny builds with his father, a rather taciturn but agreeable man, is
believable, perhaps enviable. His mother seems kind and caring. Townsfolk, even the Barney Fife deputy and his uncle Sheriff Cleveland who would really like to get his hands on the car-crazy
boys—and Lindsay offers a smart twist when he finally does so—are decent people. Mechanics help the boys hop up their cars, the various bosses Sonny encounters are accommodating, friendly,
and the banker on the corner is encouraging and sober. Could Lindsay have developed his characters more? Probably, but because of the nature of the novel, it doesn't matter that much. And
Willamette is not quite a town that Rod Serling would have imagined, and that is to the good. Lindsay's small town has much of the warmth of Rockwellian America and little if any of the
meanness and underlying corruption that other writers may have exploited; Lindsay's depiction is neither saccharine nor too good to be true.
Nostalgia plays heavily in
the world of hot rodding—just pick up a copy of Hot Rod Deluxe Magazine. The Little Bastards
is not an exception. Remember nailing metal cleats to
your soles and heels? Recall that a TV set had to "warm up"? Who today smokes Cavalier cigarettes? Did you ever return empty pop bottles for three cents apiece? Imagine, too, the excitement
when Ike Eisenhower's dream of the Interstate Highway system manifested itself in large swaths of new construction, and imagine too how exciting it would be to drag race over the completed
but unopened sections of this highway. But Lindsey doesn't overdo the nostalgia and this is to his credit. Oh, and by the way, Sonny's ride is a 1940 Ford coupe with a 1957 Oldsmobile V-8
and a J-2 high performance package under the hood.
"With that, it would be a good time to note that Lindsay, born in Corvallis, Oregon in 1947, basically lived the life of The Little Bastards
that his experience with fast cars is real. Like Sonny, he is a hot rodder and drag racer, but he does Sonny one better, "piloting a land speed racecar." You just have to admire a guy like
that—and, yes, he writes novels too: Look for a sequel in the not too distant future.
"PS: The photo above of the fellow in the car is Jim Lindsay. The other one shows me in 1963 at a York, Pennsylvania drag race, a letter from Lindsay to myself, and the keys to my
father's 1940 Chevrolet—he had bought it new and kept it until 1960. Seems appropriate."
"Jim's book is super fun reading for anyone who grew up in the late 40's, 50's, or
60's. Mary and I had fun reading it. Being a car guy or gal helps but certainly not necessary. A truly enjoyable book I recommend for any and all who love Hot Rods."
(There's nothing like a spontaneous "review" from a happy reader. I thought you'd enjoy this note just as I did. —Jim)
"I bought your
book from you on Father's Day in Pomona at The 50th Roadster show. You signed it for my husband's Father's Day gift. He loves the book!!!!! Reminds him of his childhood. Thank you very much
for the great book!!!
"Did you or someone close to you grow up in the era of street drag racing, leather jackets and white t-shirts? In other words, the 1950s? Or have you read books or watched movies or TV shows
about that time? If so, then you'll understand a bit about the time period in which Jim Lindsay's The Little Bastards
is set. Sonny Mitchell is the
narrator of a tale which begins on his 14th birthday in August 1954. He and his best friends live on the less fortunate side of the tracks in the fictional small town of Willamette,
Oregon....The book has a good balance of playfulness and seriousness. It is a lively, enjoyable novel about young men coming of age in small town America during the 1950s." (4/4
stars) Download full review (PDF)
"Set in the 1950s, Lindsay's coming-of-age novel tours the physical, emotional, and,
most importantly the vehicular landscapes of young narrator Sonny. Lindsay ruminates repeatedly on the fun and freedom of being a hot-rodding, blue-collar boy in the 50's, a nostalgia close
to his heart. The prose is breezy, and will interest readers who lived through the era."
"Jim Lindsay's coming of age story is richly evocative of the life and times of
small-town kids during the 1950s. I quickly was immersed in Sonny's tale as he and his friends graduate from frantic bike rides around town while reading all about hot rods to actually
working on and riding in their own, while listening all the while to the latest rock and roll music on the radio. The descriptions of the environment, the cool foggy days of western Oregon
and the clubhouse hidden in blackberry thickets where the kids hang out, smoking cigarettes and listening to 45s are fabulous. Equally fascinating is the way Lindsay's narrator walks the
reader through the intricacies of modifying cars and conveys the excitement of the drag races held on Otto's farm and the formalities of challenging racers. Add in the local high school
girls who are just starting to appreciate these kids from the wrong side of town, and you've got the combination for a great story—and it rides beautifully." (5/5 stars)
"The quintessential coming-of-age tale of five boys in a mid-50s American small town,
this is a Henry Gregor Felsen novel as might be told by J.D. Salinger. Not only is the story engaging and accurate but, thankfully for once, so is all of the hot rod and custom car
terminology and action. Much like American Graffiti spread over five years instead of one night."
"The Little Bastards is a story about a group of boys growing up in the 50s. Lindsay, born in 1947, has a handle on those days. The plot is episodic.
They smoke cigarettes, drink beer and drag race on public streets, all illegal activities, but they're not real bad, just little bastards."
"This dose of nostalgia (not a good enough word) is a fun read, a visitation with a
familiar past, even if not the immediate past of some of our younger trad hot rod and custom cousins. I think the protagonist in the book (is it actually Jim?) was cooler than I was
(although I did wear motorcycle boots in elementary school.) It goes fast, doesn't labor over every drag race and every rise in the Levis; it moves and gets us to a point where we are able
to leave the guy........well, you'll just have to read it and find out for yourself."
"Lifelong hot rodder and drag racer Jim Lindsay shares a peek into his past, told in
the first person and disguised in novel form. Lindsay seemingly plucked a character from a Henry Gregor Felsen tale and set him free on the page to sing a song that hasn't been heard in
decades. The rhythm is brisk and the lyrics compelling. Highly recommended."
Scotty Gosson, author and 50s survivor (barely) Back to top