Monthly Archives: December 2015

My Bookish Ways reviews Young Americans

Angel Luis Colón reviewing for My Bookish Ways

Young Americans by Josh Stallings (Heist, November 20, 2015) – There’s something to say of rock and roll eras. You had the British Invasion of the 60’s or the hair metal havoc of the 80’s—easily identifiable and potent symbols of youth in rebellion. Though, there are few eras as absolutely, certifiably, mind-bending as the glam rock era. I can copy/paste all I want from Wikipedia to explain, but come on, like The Beatles or Motley Crue represent their era, David Bowie is the single name I can toss out there to give a perfect picture of the glam rock scene.

Which explains Josh Stallings’ latest, Young Americans—titles after a Bowie track—and soaked head to toe in eyeliner, glitter, and gutter trash. Already well-known for his fantastic Moses McGuire series and stunning (I cannot stress that enough, stunning) noir memoir, All the Wild Children, Josh Stallings comes out of the gate roaring with a filthy love letter to 70’s glam and the heist novel.

Sam, a down on her luck, legacy safe-cracker finds herself in the awkward position of owing the wrong guy a high amount of money. Seeing no other way out, she needs to jump headfirst back into her old life; bringing in old friends and her younger brother, who idolizes her despite his excess of smarts, and get in one last, desperate heist.

Stallings’ writing is a Willie Weeks bass-line—deceptively to the point, but with flourishes that stand out like flares. The strength of the story—the interpersonal relationships between this glam rock family—only help to ratchet up the tension in Sam’s situation. Stallings has us rooting immediately for Sam to make things work. We want her and her gang to not only get out of their situation in one piece, but with their heads up and their pockets fuller. And that’s not an easy task. Heist novels need to take great care to provide charismatic and damaged leads that readers happily root for even though thievery is morally repugnant. We want our Robin Hoods, but Sam doesn’t fit that mold at all. She’s a bit worn out and at times impulsive, but damn can she crack a  safe.

And don’t get me wrong; with outstanding dialogue, a clever means of bringing on the heavy subject matter, and a jet-powered pace, there’s a lot for me to love about Young Americans, but I really, really loved Stallings great care in describing Sam’s skills. There’s a rhythm to those scenes that drew me in and left me hypnotized. I can imagine that must be the draw of an activity like safe-cracking, a near catharsis, and Stallings captured that well for me.

Young Americans has rushed into my top ten list for 2015. Young Americans feels like teenage rebellion; raw, sexy, sweet, and ugly in all the prettiest ways. In the hands of most writers, I don’t think this story could have popped, but Stallings makes it look easy.

MysteryPeople Review: YOUNG AMERICANS

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I am a sucker for a heist novel. Whether it’s amateurs pushed to economic extremes, “Born To Lose” punks with thirty-eights, or precise pros, the story of someone taking something from someone else always draws me in, no matter how well I’ve gotten to know the scores. I was excited to find out that one of my favorite hard boiled authors, Josh Stallings, was comitting his own style of literary larceny with Young Americans.

Set in the mid-seventies, Young Americans stars ringleader Sam, a former small time thief, scraping by as a stripper in Northern California. When her questionable boyfriend disappears with forty grand of her boss’ money, she must pay him back with either her money or her life. To get the money, she returns to her Bay Area home and enlists her old crew, enthusiastic participants in the glitter rock scene of the time. The crew includes her kid brother, Jacob; Candy, a glam rock princess and Jacob’s love interest, and Valentina, an African American Vietnam vet and transexual. The mark is a disco on New Year’s Eve. As you can guess, things don’t go as planned.

It is how Stallings spins these tropes that makes them work. His glam rock San Fransico gives the story a unique back drop, showing a group of young people pushing the views of culture and sexuality in a time of transition. Stallings explores how the heist plays with and against his characters’ emotions. Sam struggles to keep Jacob as safe as possible, but needs him around for the score to work. As part of their plan, Candy sleeps with the frontman of the disco’s opening act, wreaking havoc with Jacob’s emotions.

The author’s ability to play out the comaraderie aspect of the heist novel is what truly makes the story involving. Stallings’ seventies setting allows us to think back to the tribes we belonged to in our past, no matter what era, before marriage, family, and obligations made friendship a less concentrated form. He captures those connections of young people who would do whatever they could to back the other, no matter how stupid. When Sam and her crew learn how deep they are in, the implications of these connections become much more harrowing and serious.

Young Americans is a oddly sucessful hybrid of Richard Stark and Cameron Crowe. You root for these crazy kids to get the money, avoid murder by the mob, escape the law, and keep the bond they share together for as long as they can. You may end the novel yearning to listen to something on 8-track.

You can find Young Americans on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

 

Recommended Read: Young Americans by Josh Stallings – By PAUL BRAZILL

Stripper Sam is on the run. She leaves behind Hicksville USA and heads back to her family in San Francisco but trouble is soon barking and biting at her heels.

Josh Stallings‘ 1970s set heist novel Young Americans is  bloody brilliant. A marvelous blend of crime fiction, coming of age story and offbeat family saga. Complete with a great soundtrack.

Stallings’ books are always great but this could well be his best yet.

Young Americans – The BOLO Books Review

BOLO Books–  Posted on 

Reading Young Americans is likely a bit like actually living through the era the novel depicts – fun and flirty with an unmistakable edge to both. Josh Stallings has crafted a collection of characters you can’t help but root for and a plot that hustles across the page at breakneck pace.

 

Young Americans is a classic heist novel in that the motivations and desired results are what one would expect; yet the originality of the participants and the unique setting situate the book apart from the others of the type. Readers looking for a quick read, some hilarious dialogue, and a brief glimpse into a forgotten time will find much to enjoy in Josh Stallings’ tale.

Young Americans

As the novel opens, Samantha – but please call her Sam – is working at a strip club in Humboldt County, California. She is a big girl but makes no apologies for it. Raised in a criminal family, Sam sees stripping as her effort toward a legitimate lifestyle. But as it often does, the past rears its ugly head when Sam gets herself involved in some internal power struggles among her corrupt acquaintances and must flee for her safety.

Needing to hide out, Sam returns to her hometown of San Francisco and hooks up with her old gang of friends. Her brother Jacob is also hanging around, constantly trying to impress Sam’s childhood best friend, Candy, so that Candy might take a romantic interest in him. The reunion is short-lived as Sam’s attempt at subterfuge collapses around her.

Their only option to keep the tight-knit gang safe and intact is by agreeing to perpetrate a heist at the local disco hotspot, Taxi Dancer. The casing of the joint and planning for the raid provide many entertaining vignettes. Of course, on the night of the heist, shenanigans ensue and when two of their own are put in danger, Sam and her friends must ratchet up their seriousness.

Josh Stallings brings the disco era and the glitter kids who populate it to vivid life. By including vintage details – such as films, music, and magazines – he is able to emerse the reader in this world. Yes, the characters are essentially low-level criminals, but since they are in this predicament through no fault of their own, readers will cheer for them guilt-free. Double crosses and hijinks keep the gang on their toes.

And what a gang it is: Sam and Jacob are the main focus, but it is Valentina Creamrosa, a transgendered African-American amazon, who stole my heart. She gets the funniest quips and her unrequited love for Jacob’s friend Terry is very sweet. The group is a family – not of blood, but of choice – and they will do what they have to in order to protect their own. Josh Stallings’ Young Americans is a crime novel with a heart of gold.

“Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall steal.”
– Josh Stallings, Young Americans