Chris Ross's work is both insightful and big-hearted, and he opens the door to his beloved Indiana like a gracious host who knows the skeletons have already tumbled out of the closet, but he's throwing the party anyway. Ross illuminates the lives of his characters with a vision and voice guided by empathy and humor. He captures the poignant resiliency and spirit found in Indiana's small towns where the factories have closed, yet the people still play baseball in the industry league, even though the industry no longer exists.Chris Ross keeps it real in Born & Raised as he relates life in the summer of 1984 for Sean Yoakam. With a mother who walked out on her family and a not so affectionate older sister and father, Sean's coming of age story makes you want to better appreciate the blessings and good family life you may have.
Parked in a small southern Indiana town, Born & Raised is set where hope and defeat stain two sides of the same coin – a coin tossed to the kid working the night games at the men’s industrial softball league even though all industry moved on years ago. It is the coming of age story of Sean Yokam, a reluctant nineteen year-old trucker, fighting not to come apart. As Sean sifts through the two summers he believes have brought him to where he’s now stuck, he starts to realize that the bad things happening are just the things people do to one another in order to survive.
The summer of ’84 delivers Sean the first chill of neglect as his father, Roy, and his sister, Billie, desperately try to fill in the void left by Sean’s mother. Roy, turning every success into a failure, roams the used car lots, flips through the pages of International Male catalog and soaks up whatever there is to be found at the singles’ scene, while Billie, like an animal chasing after its own tail, does the best she can on the fate of scratch off-lottery tickets and the pre-set radio stations of a Dodge Dynasty whose seats are draped in beach towels that reek of Little Kings beer and suntan lotion.
The summer of ’90 finds them, six years later, in one way or another, living up to the Yokam family code of shit in one hand, wish in the other, see which fills up first. Sean, a high school graduate, finds himself setting out on his own – not to escape, but to find a way back. Back to what or where, he’s not sure, but as life unfolds for him, it’s becoming painfully clear that love, in the end, is blind – but only to those who aren’t looking for it.
Ross' storytelling paints the picture of what Sean's life is like very vividly. It easy to envision yourself growing up in Sean's shoes no matter how tough or unusual, the writing style is that expressive and honest. I wasn't too crazy about the narration style with no quotation marks around speech, though it made the story sound conversational and more like Sean's speaking directly to the reader, I had a hard time keeping up each character's speech. I wouldn't say that this detracted from the enjoyment of the story, but it did occasionally trip me up during some scenes.
Ross doesn't completely depress readers, but shows the possible reality that could be anyone's life. I would recommend Born & Raised, especially because it is a story that will capture readers who love to see someone young make it through rough situations.
February 2013, Tell Me Press, 224pp, Paperback
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