Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016
Publisher: Crown Publishing
I requested this e-book review copy in exchange for an honest review before I even read the blurb on the book. The reason for my request was the title. I grew up in Queens, NY. And to my delight I learned that the protagonist lived (in one of her three childhood neighborhoods) just a few blocks away from my childhood home. So for me parts of this book are like walking down memory lane. I expected to enjoy reading about my old stomping grounds. It was an extra treat to learn that this is a delightful, colorful and fun (some laugh out loud moments) coming of age memoir. Tara Clancy is the daughter an American Italian mother and an American Irish father. Her parents’ divorce when she is around five years old. She spends her childhood growing up in three vastly different homes and lifestyles in NY, which is the essence of her memoir.
Home one is in Bellerose, Queens. (This is the address near my childhood home). She and her mom live with her grandmother (who is a force to be reckoned with) in what she refers to as an Italian village since her grandmother and her great-aunt live next door to each other both in mother daughter homes, both with many children and grandchildren; who needs friends when you have about a million cousins? Be prepared to do much laughing. Her grandmother could be the character Marie from the TV show Everybody loves Raymond, but with an Italian accent and dialogue filled with American Italian curse vernaculars. If you don’t know what the word “fongul” means, Google it; and then you will get my drift. Clancy’s writing is so clear you will feel like you are sitting on the stage of a sitcom watching actors play geriatric Italians in all their glory as they lovingly (in their suffocating ways) drag the kids along for the ride.
Home two is with her American Irish dad who lives in Rockaway Beach, Queens. When she is with him every other weekend she lives in a one room boat that sits on the front lawn of her dad’s friend house. Her dad is a blue collar cop that often takes his daughter with him to the Irish bars. Do not imagine you will be reading about a sad “I was a bar stool child” memoir. She hints there were times the drinking went too far. However basically, these bars are packed full of rowdy, lovable characters and Tara loves hanging out with them. Rockaway is where the reader first meets seven year old Tara. She is getting her “lights knocked out” in a boxing match with one of her friends; sounds terrible to an adult, young Tara is having a grand time. She is very disappointed when a limo comes to pick her up. A limo in a working class neighborhood usually means it is a prom or a wedding, for Tara it means she is going to her third home. Clancy does a great job showing us the extremes in her life when she enters the limo and looks out the window at her boxing buddies still holding onto the chain fence.
Home three is in the ultra rich area of the Hamptons in Long Island, NY where she spends every other weekend with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend (during the weekdays she and her mom live in Bellerose, Queens). Weekends on the Hampton estate are the norm for Tara. But when she brings her friends to visit expect another comedy sitcom to begin. These are kids from concrete playground Queens. You can almost see their jaws dropping as they walk around the mansion and spend their evenings having intellectual conversations with her mom’s boyfriend. For her friends it is like a pleasant visit to the moon.
I laughed through most of this book. For example there is a chapter surrounding her Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) all girls softball team. Clancy calls the teams “Our Lady of Something or Other” playing against “Saint Something or Other” with all teams playing for blood. Think A League of Their Own with ten to twelve year old girls that think nothing of sliding into home base on asphalt, ouch.
Then there is what I found to be the Tara’s funniest escapade. Her mom takes fourteen year old Tara out of state to meet her mom’s friend. Her mom has an ulterior motive for this visit. Her friend is a lesbian and her mom wonders if Tara is gay (which she is, but this is something Tara doesn’t know about herself until she is in college). The visit was supposed to be a way to let Tara know that her mom has no biases on one’s sexuality. A sweet gesture that backfires on her mom since her friend works in an S&M sex toy store. Innocent Tara is left alone for five minutes in this store. I will not spoil the fun by telling you what happens in that chapter, but I’m still giggling about it. Her mom and her mom’s friend were terrified that they traumatized Tara. Have no fear she was not. She grew up to be a healthy woman with a great sense of humor and to be one hell of a story teller. In all three of Tara’s worlds of extremes she grew up feeling safe, loved and happy. We all should be so lucky.