Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Title: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Author: Chris Fuhrman
Genre: Fiction
Published: 1994

Recommendation: A rather adult-themed YA fiction novel, well written, but not for everyone.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Francis is a 13-year old boy in 1970s who goes to a Catholic school in Savannah. The book is a story about him and his friends going to school, getting into trouble and growing up.

Reactions: I spent some time trying to decide who is the intended audience of this book. A book full of 13-year olds suggests YA, but the themes present in the book are rather adult and in some ways it seems more of a reminiscence type story.

In some ways this was a fascinating book due to its exposition of life in Savannah in 1970s. The typical life of a family in that time, the religiousness, the racial politics of that time are all present on the sidelines of the book and paint a vivid picture.

At the same time I had trouble connecting to the characters of the book, most of them being adolescent boys. The only girl in the book was probably the hardest to relate to, actually. Also in spite of the upbeat tone of the book, the events of the book often conveyed a rather depressing feeling. Francis drinks non-stop, gets beaten by his father with and without cause, and deals with some rather unpleasant facets of life.

Overall, I did enjoy the reading and I can see how someone whose childhood resonates more with the characters' could really like the book. I did find some of the more adult things that happen in the book a bit disturbing and I think enjoyed it less overall for the lack of a personal connection to the events. Still very well written and I would recommend it to those who can connect to teen boys better than I can.


  1. I would certainly say this is not young adult fiction. Glad you to see you gave it a chance. I can't say I related to anyone in the book, but I did think it was a wonderful juxtaposition of a myriad of social issues that young people faced then and now.

    It may be a bit too "R" rated to replace "Catcher in the Rye" but I feel it's a better coming of age story for today's readers.

  2. I think to me both Catcher in the Rye and this book are on equal grounds when it comes to troubled teenage protagonists coming of age. I think I had similar "disconnected" feeling when reading Catcher in the Rye.

    Maybe I need to re-read Catcher in the Rye to really compare the two, but despite both books being coming of age stories with rebellious male protagonists, the feel of the two books is different.

    I would be hesitant to say that one replaces the other because they deal with different issues. To me, the major difference is that Francis is surrounded by friends throughout, while Catcher in the Rye has this strong alienation component to the book.

    I think both have their merits but I wouldn't totally replace one with the other.

  3. What's the archetypal coming of age with a female protagonist? Is there one? (Replace was too strong of a word on my part; nothing will push Catcher aside.)

  4. I am not sure it's the archetypal work in the same way Catcher in the Rye is, but the first thing that came to my mind is Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery. It might be more popular in Canada than in the U.S. though. I cannot really think of a whole lot of others actually. Can you?

  5. No, I'm drawing a blank. I admit to not reading much written by women, and I can't recall a coming of age type book with a female protagonist. (I'm addressing my female author deficiency though I'll say parity isn't my goal.)

    I feel like we are surely missing something obvious.

  6. How about The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett? Or A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle? I know both of these had a huge impact on me -- the latter when I was 11 and in sixth grade. Some would also say Podkayne on Mars by Robert Heinlein, but I read late Heinlein before I read early Heinlein, and it ruined his girls/women for me forever, I fear.

    In both the Burnett and the L'Engle, the "coming of age" seems to be much more a discovery that one has the strength to take care of one's loved ones -- a rather different theme than the typical male coming of age novel, I think.

    Maria, Chad brought me to your blog because of this post, but I do believe I'll be back! Don't know if I'll read this particular graphic novel, but I'll certainly be on the outlook for it at the library, if they've got it.

  7. Hi Terry and welcome :)

    I guess I haven't actually read any of the books above, though I've heard of A Wrinkle in Time. There just doesn't seem to be a novel commonly studied in schools with coming of age female protagonists. I suspect part of the reason many read the Catcher in the Rye is because they are introduced to it in school.

    Just FYI, despite the cover, The Dangerous Lives of the Altar Boys is not a graphic novel. I did find that the cover tells you quite a few things about the contents of the book, so it can be counted as a preview all by itself.

  8. The Secret Garden and A Wrinkle in Time both sound familiar, but I don't think I've read either.

    Maria, I never thought about how telling the cover is; I'm so dismissive about covers once I start reading.

  9. Oh, you're both missing quite a treat, especially with the L'Engle. I strongly recommend that you give it a try -- it's really one of the iconic books of my childhood, and, I think, the first science fiction I ever read.

  10. Chad, I didn't pay too much attention to the cover until I finished the book. Then I realized a lot of the story could be deduced from the cover. It's actually sort of a miracle, since most covers have very vague correlation to the book contents these days.

    Terry, I definitely have L'Engle on my radar. I will give her a try sometime in the future.