“Young Americans,” (named after the David Bowie album) kicks off in mid December of 1976 in Northern California. In the opening chapters we meet Sam, a stripper who has run afoul of a powerful rural crime boss and the only way to save herself is by returning to the family business, thievery. So Sam returns home to San Francisco and assembles a heist crew to help her get out from under the crime lord’s thumb and perhaps start a better life. We follow her and her friends and family as they form a plan, gather the materials they need, and case their target. We then go along on the daring New Year’s Eve heist of a packed disco and then the story picks up even more power and momentum as the aftermath of the heist puts Sam and company in the crosshairs of a number of powerful and dangerous enemies.
So “Young Americans” is a fun and exciting tale full of twists, turns, and great action, but it’s real strength is it’s great cast of complex, fun, and well developed characters. Our chief protagonists are Sam, a tough and cunning thief with a devotion to both her biological and chosen families; and her brother Jacob whose smarts got him shut out of the family business. So when we meet him Jake is a bright kid obsessed with the great films of his era and the great rock ‘n roll, and when his sister comes home he insists on being part of her plans to get out of trouble.
Jake’s friend Terry, a smart jock turned glitter rock kid also becomes part of the crew. Rounding out the team are Sam’s old partners in crime Candy and my favorite character in the book Valentina, an African American transgender woman. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking too much about why I like Val, but let’s just say she’s incredibly charismatic and a bad-ass.
We also meet a number of colorful, eclectic, and cool characters over the course of “Young Americans.” One of my favorites ended up being Jo jo a gay, kindly, mob enforcer with a love for ’70s TV.
“Young Americans” shines a light on how cool, capable, and tough Stallings core cast is, but the author also really shows off their humanity as well. We get to see them in their element and we get to see them dealing with the physically and emotionally taxing consequences of their actions. Those are my favorite types of crime novels; the ones where you get both thrills and excitement and the brutal and painful costs of violence. It’s a type of novel that Stallings is a master at telling too. He proved it with his Moses McGuire trilogy of novels and proves it once again here.
So “Young Americans” has a different kind of feel than Stallings previous work, but it contains all of the elements I’ve come to love about his writing: fun action, gritty street level crime, fascinating characters, and powerful and poignant drama. For me it reads like a mash up of the lurid, lightning charged rock of the post-glam punk band the Cramps and Richard Stark’s awesome Parker novels.
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