Little, Brown and Company 2000
ISBN: 0-316-19964-8
In a way, we read books to help us remember ourselves. And if we’re lucky, certain books remind us of the better part of something we’ve forgotten, of a time that was much simpler and somehow better. Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy takes place on a depression-era farm, and whether we have experienced this place and time or not, the author makes sure we know what it felt like to be there. The author makes sure we are able to remember our own childhood by reading about Jim’s.
         If I said this book was simple, I’d be telling the truth, but only part of the truth. If I said this book was exceptional I’d be telling part of yet another truth. But when I say this book is beautifully honest I am telling you that it is poetic in a way that other books can only hope to be. It’s the drop of water on a lazy summer day—satisfying and appropriate. It’s a book that touches us and doesn’t leave the marks to show. We couldn’t explain anyway.
         It’s 1934 and the tenth year in Jim the Boy’s life. Jim's father, Jim Glass, Sr., died just before Jim was born. Young Jim, however, feels the presence of the father through the stories his mother and her three brothers tell for his benefit. Elizabeth Glass is a strong, sensitive woman; her brothers play the dual roles of uncle and surrogate father.
         We first glimpse Jim as he wanders in rows of waist-high corn with the Uncles. The taste of hard work is dripping down his temples, even though it’s his birthday. He throws rocks to the end of the field to note the length of his hoeing and how much farther he has to go. Quietly, a smile rises on the reader’s face because we all remember doing that. Throwing a rock marks the beginning and ending of a lot of things. Jim desperately doesn’t want to disappoint the uncles but he’s tired and having a hard time keeping up. "He has started a journey he knew he could not finish. He felt a sob gather up in his stomach like a cloud." Tony Earley couldn’t have done a better of job of describing the gravity and simplicity of childhood pain.
         This book isn’t plot-driven but the reader is never unsure about whether he or she wanst to turn the next page; after a while, it just becomes necessary. This book chronicles a year in the life of Jim. It is year that in which electricity and polio come to North Carolina. But these aren’t the largest parts of the big picture; the larger more significant points are present in the more subtle and typical depictions of Jim’s childhood. Everything Jim encounters becomes a source of wonder, from his new school's unfinished ceilings to the morning air:

The world at that early hour seemed newly made, unfinished; the air, still sweet with dew, an invention thought up that morning. In the low places near the river, stray ghosts of fog still hunted among the trees….The sky, in a moment Jim didn't notice until the moment had passed, turned blue, as if it had never tried the color before and wasn't sure anyone would like it.

        The best parts of this book deal with Jim's deceivingly simple discoveries. The important lessons Mr. Earley presents are so quiet and confident that it’s easy to miss them.
         In one example of the largeness and smallness of Jim’s childhood, Uncle Al decides to take him on a business trip. They journey Charlotte and end up in a vast and unexplored South Carolina. And since they’ve traveled that far, Uncle Al decides that they might as well just head over to the ocean because a man in his forties should see such a thing in his lifetime. Tony Earley sums up Jim’s experience of the Atlantic beautifully in this passage:

As the sun began to set, Jim and the uncles watched the last yellow light of the day slide up the mountain toward the bald, dragging evening behind it. When the light went out of their faces, they turned and watched it retreat up the peak, where at the summit a single tree flared defiantly before going dark. A chilly breeze whipped from nowhere across the bald and flapped the legs of Jim's overalls. He turned with the uncles for a last look at the view before heading down the mountain. All but the brightest greens had drained out of the world, leaving in their stead an array of somber blues. A low fog had begun to seep out between the trees along Painter Creek. Jim jumped down from the rock and looked again toward home.

        Jim’s life isn’t filled with technology and gadgets. But Jim Glass experiences the same range of emotional expression and trauma that children do today. Tony Earley reminds us of life in the depression, of childhood lessons we won’t forget, of wonder of the world that we’ve lost as adults. But most of all, this author reminds us that a child’s growth and development depend much more on the loving environment of the child than on what technological privileges the child has. Healthy and loving adults grow healthy and loving children in the simplest times with the simplest things.
         Although this book is told from Jim’s point of view, it is never cutesy or juvenile; instead it’s beautifully innocent and honest. The language is plain but the lessons are monumental. This is a universal story written in the language of human beings. As such, it is a story we can all understand and love.