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.