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The Year of the Storm - John Mantooth ”I remember fourteen. Best and worst year of my life. Best because I learned how to be a man. Worst because I forgot how to be a boy.”

I too remember being fourteen. It was the year of my first girlfriend, my first real girlfriend. Stephanie, the girl with the chocolate eyes, in sixth grade really doesn’t count. She did hug me once, a thrilling experience that left me dazed for the rest of the day. My mother was about to tear her hair out because Miss Stephanie was Catholic and I was forbidden to date a Catholic. As my mom got into a lather about Catholicism I wanted to say, but had the sense not to, mom did you see her eyes? I couldn’t have given a rat’s ass if she were Mormon, Baptist, Martian or descended from a Pope’s mistress in my mind’s eye she was from Venus.

Her family moved away over the summer.

Nicki was a butcher’s daughter, yeah I know cool huh?, and a Junior. Now I don’t know how things worked at the schools that you all went to, but a Freshman boy dating a Junior girl with long blond hair, blue-eyes, and mega-attractiveness, did not set well with the Junior and Senior boys. I was poaching on what they considered to be their flock. They waited for me after school. I’d grown some, but not enough to contend with a bunch of dumbass rednecks with rocks in their skulls. I stayed after school and shot hoops in the gym. Once in awhile I would wander over to the door and peer out the crack and see if they were still out there surrounding my car. Usually they didn’t have the patience to wait too long. For about two weeks I had to watch my ass everywhere I went. I carried my tire iron under my front seat. It made dating difficult.

Still what a year that was.

Now this story is about Danny and Walter Pike in two different timelines at age fourteen. Walter is friends with some puppy torturing guys that remind me of some of the dumbasses that wanted to rearrange my features. Everything goes sideways when Walter stands between them and a boy named Seth who is a suspected queer. Seth isn’t the best boy to be friends with. He has trust issues (understandable), his Dad is an asshole, and he has weird ideas about a storm shelter that can take people to an alternative universe. Now it is hard enough being fourteen on the cusp of adulthood with more expectations; and yet, still treated like a kid without the added burden of trying to fathom an alternative universe. Seth takes Walter to this other dimension and makes a believer out of him. Seth disappears and Walter tries to get on with his life. The year is 1959 and Walter is the perfect age, a few years later, to be drafted for Vietnam. He shows up in Danny’s timeline a broken down old man hauling around an oxygen tank. He has a little problem with a county sheriff.

”They told you some shit about me, Pike said, and his voice was ragged, full of sharp edges and menace. But they must have left out the most important parts. I’m a crazy motherfucker. I spent nearly three years in the Hanoi Hilton letting Charlie pour sand down my throat. I’ve killed before, and it ain’t nothing for me to kill again.”

The older Walter Pike is by far the coolest guy in the book. Now Danny has lost his mother and sister in a super storm, but no sign of them is ever found. As Danny stumbles across more and more weirdness he starts to believe that they are in that other dimension. Walter is the perfect guy to convince him it is possible.

Much happens.

Kudzu takes over Alabama.

Not really, well I haven’t checked with my buddy Mike Sullivan, but I’m pretty sure other foliage grows in Alabama. Kudzu was first brought to the South in the mid-19th century to help with erosion issues. The vine went out of control.

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If you leave your house for a week in Alabama you come back to this.

John Mantooth mentions it about a million times. Okay that is hyperbole and frankly I’m not willing to put this all on Mantooth. I mean there are still editors out there right? Get the man a foliage of Alabama book.

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The problem is the word kudzu is so unusual that a reader can’t help, but notice it being overused.

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If you stop your car to go take a leak in Alabama you come back to THIS.

I’d show you some more kudzu pictures, but they are just too damn scary.

For most of the book I thought I was reading a Young Adult book. I felt at times like the novel had been put through a word strainer and any of those, as my Dad would call them, fifty cent words were thrown in the recycling bin. I know that they teach writers not to use fifty cent words when a normal one will do, but my “normal” vocabulary is higher than the eighth grade level and I appreciate seeing a few fifty cent words. They make me all tingly. Mantooth does have a good plot and if I hadn’t been distracted by the creeping kudzu I might have appreciated it more. Mantooth missed the real horror of this novel...it is the KUDZU. Before he comes to his senses and writes the novel that he should have I’m pounding out the book KUDZU MADNESS, does anyone remember REEFER MADNESS? I wonder if one can get high smoking kudzu. *Sigh*

Okay one more.

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Kudzu takes human shape and takes over the world!!!