Open Your Eyes Jackson Ryder (2016)Rudy Castaneda Lopez
“Because of Vincent Van Gogh everybody expects artists to be poor,” complains Jack, a 15 year-old New Yorker, who is “crazy about art” just like his German-born mother. His drawings are the only part of Jack’s world he can control.
When his mother dies suddenly, Jack stops drawing. “My hand felt like a claw. I dropped the pencil.” His grieving father, Hymie, takes a job in California, and Jack is soon starting high school in San Sebastiano. It seems a dusty backwater but as Jack makes friends (like Indian Maria and Mexican Ray) and enemies (like Buster the bully) he also learns more about life, girls, art, love, death and the complexities of his own Polish-Jewish and German heritage.
All this is told in Jack’s own words, in an account which is rich in 1960s details. Lopez skilfully conveys the agonising confusion and loneliness of adolescence, while maintaining a light and often witty mood. Jack’s coming-of-age is not easy but it’s always interesting.Trevor Agnew
Note: This review was first published in Your Weekend (Fairfax) 30 April 2016