Christy Award–winner Fabry (Every Waking Moment, 2013) presents an unlikely trio in Matt Plumley, an overweight preacher’s kid; Jesse Woods, considered “white trash” by the good people of Dogwood; and Dickie Darrel Lee Hancock, a mixed-race youth whose father is serving in Vietnam. They’re all social outcasts, bullied and discriminated against because they’re different, mostly by the town’s self-professed “Christians,” who use their religion to justify their bigotry. Told from Matt’s viewpoint, the chapters alternate between his arrival in Dogwood in 1972 and his return in 1984, when he tries to rescue Jesse from what he considers a disastrous wedding. This riveting, no-punches-pulled coming-of-age tale is reminiscent of Richard Bachman’s (Stephen King) short story, “The Body,” which was made into the movie Stand by Me.
In The Promise of Jesse Woods, a soul-searching novel of faith, friendship and promises, Chris Fabry (War Room) invigorates the small-town lives of three teens in 1970s West Virginia with his exquisite, lyrical writing. Matt Plumley turns 14 shortly after moving to Dogwood, where his father is taking over the parsonage of the local Baptist church. The overweight boy finds acceptance in two of the town’s outcasts—Dickie, a mixed-race boy, and Jesse, a dirt-poor tomboy. Despite his parents’ objections, Matt spends all his time with his new friends, cementing their bonds.
During their adolescent escapades in the summer of 1972, Matt falls in love with Jesse. He confides in her and she in him, pledging to keep each other’s secrets always. But when Jesse’s secrets build to a crescendo, the trio’s friendship comes crashing down, leaving Matt devastated and alone.
A decade later, living in Chicago, he learns Jesse is engaged to be married. He heads back to Dogwood in search of closure, especially for why Jesse broke her most important promise to him. But this encore may be more than Matt bargained for.
The Promise of Jesse Woods is a literary delight. Fabry’s young characters are dynamically depicted in their language and attitudes; their richness drips into every other element of the novel. Fabry’s gift with suspense is on display, even in his recounting of a Reds-Pirates baseball game. This novel is worthy of a standing ovation. Bravo!
Discover: A young man returns to his childhood home in West Virginia to confront lingering questions from the pivotal summer of 1972.
A tender coming-of-age story of first love, innocence lost, and the soul-freeing power of truth.