South Park, Houston, Texas, 1977, is where we first meet Ti’ John, a young boy under the care of his larger-thanlife father—a working-class rodeo star and a practitioner of vodou—and his mother—a good Catholic and cautious disciplinarian— who forbids him to play with the neighborhood “hoodlums.” Ti’ John, throughout the era of Reaganomics and the dawn of hip-hop and cassette tapes, must negotiate the world around him and a peculiar gift he’s inherited from his father and Jules Saint-Pierre “Nonc” Sonnier, a deceased ancestor who visits the boy, announcing himself with the smell of smoke on a regular basis. In many ways, Ti’ John is an ordinary kid who loses his innocence as he witnesses violence and death, as he gets his heart broken by girls and his own embittered father, as he struggles to live up to his mother’s middle-class aspirations and his father’s notion of what it is to be a man. In other ways, he is different—from his childhood buddies and from the father who is his hero.
The question throughout this layered and complex coming-of-age story is will Ti’ John survive the bad side of life—and his upbringing—and learn how to recognize and keep what is good.
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