Ian Ayris review Young American

The Blurb
1976 New Year’s Eve, San Francisco. A Firebird transports a crew of glitter kids away from the city. Forget the trunk full of cash and illegal firearms. Forget the disco heist and sea of felonies left in their wake. They are five friends happily rolling down thunder road with no horizon in sight. They are YOUNG AMERICANS.

Opening Paragraph
Jacob lay down on his waterbed, staring at the poster on the ceiling – Iggy and the Stooges. He was wondrously stoned. High enough to feel nostalgia and whimsy, straight enough not to be consumed by the need to power eat a sack of Jack in the Box tacos.

The Review
It is no secret that Josh Stallings is one of the very few authors whose books I have to seek out and devour the moment they are published. His Moses McGuire novels are some of the best, some of the most raw, crime fiction you will read, and his autobiographical All the WIld Children is amongst my top three favourite books I have ever read. So when I got an early opportunity to read Stallings’ latest novel, it had a lot to live up to. And of course, live up to, it did.

You see, Stallings can write. Blimey, can he write. 

I’d like to illustrate that now. For a great part of this year, I have been lecturing in Creative Writing, helping two classes of adults to write a novel. I don’t wish to put myself out of a job here – times being what they are, and all that – but if you want to know how to write a novel, read Josh Stallings. That’s all you have to do. What I have spent nine months talking about, Stalings shows. Time and time again.

Lets start with Time and Place – two fundamentals of writing a novel. In YOUNG AMERICANS the time is 1976, the place, California, specifically San Francisco. Stallings brings both place and the era to life as only one who has lived through it can. It is easy to throw in a few references to the music of the time, the clothes, politics, etc. But these alone do not convince. What a writer needs is to capture the mood. To capture the mood, you need to capture the rhythm – the beat. Stallings manages these effortlessly.

Then there are the characters. Take the following, for instance. A description of the main protagonist – Sam – the grandaughter of a safe cracker, the daughter of a thief:

Sam sat in a camp chair wrapped in her sleeping bag. She was a big girl, with the kind of curves that started wars. Zaftig. Out of fashion. The Thin White Duke, David Bowie, made looking underfed fashionable. You could count every one of supermodel Margaux Hemingway’s ribs. Sam’s body was luxurious. It said screw you, have a burger and relax awhile. Her glitter platforms jutted out of black satin jeans. Her hair was cut in a spiky shag, just like Suzi Quatro. It was a blonde-red. Shiny. Her body, her stature, demanded a wider view of what a glitter rocker could look like. Not that anyone wanted an ass-kicking enough to screw with her about her size.

In these lines, Stallings conveys everything you need to know about Sam. That is how to describe a character.

All the characters in YOUNG AMERICANS – every one – is a solid, living being, each with their own journey, their own purpose. Even the minor characters are drawn with such a fine pen, they leap from the page and promise to smack you in the face if you for one second doubt their right to live and breathe as you and I.

And the dialogue . . . the dialogue . . . Elmore Leonard eat your fucking heart out . . .The dialogue crackles and spits like pig fat on an open fire. It’s just brilliant.

As for the plot, it twists and it turns, and twists again. This time, this place, these characters, Stallings wraps the plot around them, and they just go at it.

In the hands of a writer like Stallings, YOUNG AMERICANS becomes more than a simple heist novel. it becomes a novel of need, of love, of love friendship – all set to a glitterball beat. 

It is a truly brilliant novel.

                                                        – Ian Ayris

Nigel Bird at Sea Minor reviews Young Americans

“When he wasn’t on a losing streak and moody, he was a great guy.”

When Josh Stallings brings out something new, it’s an exciting event. It’s like the interesting shaped parcel under the Christmas tree – you can’t wait to open it and have no idea what’s going to be inside.

What’s inside Young Americans (US) is a fun tale about a heist set in the middle of the 1970s. Not that it’s a straightforward story with predictable characters – it’s anything but.

Sam is a young woman who was taught to crack safes at an early age by her father. She gets involved in a drugs deal that goes wrong and is held accountable for the mess. The only way she can make amends and keep herself alive is to rob a nightclub that happens to be owned by a member of the mob.

In spite of the close attention of the local cop, she collects together members of her old crew, her brother and a few new flamboyant and varied players to help her out on the job.

There’s a tense build up to the heist and an even more dramatic escape.

Suffice to say things don’t go well and Sam and her family find themselves in a position where everybody literally wants a piece or two of them.

Bubbling under this are intertwined relationships of different kinds that are built on strong loyalties. This means none of the ways forward are simple.

The setting is really special. It would be great to get into that time machine and zoom back to the era and the location. There are drugs and sparkles and almost anything goes. Stallings does a good job of bringing that disco world to life and opens each chapter with a cool and apt quote to get things rolling.

For my taste the book is a little heavy on dialogue, but that is often redeemed by the use of an extensive range of monumental slang and similes that only a really cool-as-hell dude would be able to find.

This one’s for the crime reader who likes material to be multi-faceted and to stray beyond the boundaries of the main action.

Nice work.

Nigel Bird

Out of the Gutter REVIEW

OUT OF THE GUTTER 11/17/2015

Josh Stallings has a habit of writing books that elicit strong emotions from his readers. The Moses McGuire series deals with topics that are heavy-handed, leaving most readers feeling righteous indignation towards the treatment of some of his secondary characters. His ability to elicit these strong emotions is what made the Moses’ trilogy such a favorite to lovers of dark, hard-hitting fiction.

Stallings, who commented that the Moses’ trilogy took a lot out of him emotionally, takes a shot at writing a “softer” novel, Young Americans, a straight-up heist novel that takes place in the 70s. The big question for me was could the magic he displayed in his previous books carry over into this one, or would taking away the brutal subject matter render him less effective.

Sam is an accomplished thief. Taught to crack safes and live a life of crime by her grandfather and her father, she enjoys the criminal upbringing until her father gets sent to prison for life. Losing her father causes her to rethink her choices, like moving away from her family and barely eke out a living as a stripper in Humbolt County. After she vouches for a boyfriend in a drug deal, she’s left holding the bag. She winds up in debt to a big time criminal and forced to reconnect with her old crew to pull off the robbery of a mafia owned nightclub to pay off her debt.

Stallings’ amazing writing talents are on full display throughout this fast-paced story. His characters do more than just appear in the book, they jump off the page and come to life. Stalling has a way of making each character unique in their motivations, yet meld them together. And they work well as a team in planning the heist.

As with his previous three novels, Stallings knocks this one out of the ballpark. Like an accomplished actor switching roles from a heavy drama to a more light-hearted role, he makes you forget about his previous body of work and you become immersed in the new world he has created. This world is a lot of fun and it’s a blast from start to finish. Stallings shows his readers they need not worry what subject he chooses to tackle; they need only buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski

Young Americans BLURBS (what other authors have to say.)


1976 New Year’s Eve, San Francisco. A Firebird transports a crew of glitter kids away from the city. Forget the trunk full of cash and illegal firearms. Forget the disco heist and sea of felonies left in their wake. They are five friends happily rolling down thunder road with no horizon in sight. They are YOUNG AMERICANS.

“Like the era it celebrates and critiques, Josh Stallings’ Young Americans is excessive, brash, morally complex, and full of wonderful freaks, wicked cars, and great music.  Get down on it.” – Charlie Huston

“A tremendous book — tough, funny, totally convincing, and even (in places) sweet. It’s good enough to make the book’s patron saint, David Bowie, proud. Josh Stallings is an original.” – Tim Hallinan

“Young Americans is a stone cold blast. Josh Stallings has created a heist novel that captures the glam/disco era of the 1970s and inhabited with dynamite characters. This book rocks.” – Johnny Shaw

“Drugs, guns, cars, and sex! This wild ride back to the 70’s careens along so fast that you brace yourself for the crash that’s bound to come—but like an Elmore Leonard master caper, nothing is what its seems, and the reader wins.” – Terry Shames

“A wild heist, some sweet and some not-so-sweet love, a lot of glam rock and a little disco, Josh Stallings’ Young Americans is superb and sexy. Gritty, and yet still lyrical, it’s a glimpse over our collective shoulder – and it feels real, feels like this flashy past is just barely behind us, for all the good that it means to move on, and for the all the pangs every generation feels for what’s lost that was so very cool.” -Jamie Mason

“Josh Stallings delivers a heist caper glitter bomb, a moonage daydream set in a dirty teen world of amyl hits and glam rock kicks, a blast from start to finish with a heart bigger than a ’73 Cadillac blinged out with shag carpet and leopardskin seats. My favorite book of the year.” – Thomas Pluck

“Anyone who’s read the Moses McGuire books or All the Wild Children knows Josh Stallings ain’t fucking around. His books knock you about the head and heart and leave bruises you remember fondly. What they may not yet know is just how much unbridled fun he’s capable of having. A star-spangled disco ball refracting sex, thugs and rock and roll, The Young Americans sparkles and flashes like a glitter-dipped nightstick catching the dawn’s early light before kissing you upside the head and sending you into a blissed-out sugar-nap you can take again and again. Hey, all you young dudes, take a walk on the wild side and find out if there’s life on Mars. Fuckin-A.” – Jedidiah Ayres



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