is an irreverent and humorous look at growing up Catholic in 1950's New England. Author William May shares personal stories about his life as a child and teen with a rebellious streak
in a restrictive, anti-rebellion family, school and neighborhood. Any man who grew up in a similar environment would identify with May's experiences, and those who cannot relate will still laugh out loud at his hijinks.
Growing Up Catholic
In Billy Boy
, author William May shares fun and endearing stories about the rites of passage of a young man in rural New England living in a strict Catholic home, with a mother
who ran her home strictly in alignment with Catholic faith and tradition. In May's own words: "If you changed her religious practices, took away the pork and added kosher food, she could have easily passed for a Jewish mother. She called the shots. She was in charge. The boss. Commander in Chief, second only to Christ himself. She not only plotted my course, she was at the helm, steering my ship." His father, less devout but equally colorful in his own way, added realism and humor to a home that would have otherwise been unbearable for a young boy with an attitude and later with raging hormones
. Billy was also inserted into the altar boy program at Saint John's Parish in an effort by his devout mom to direct him in the way of faith. But as May explains, that was a truly failed attempt. His commitment to fun and friends outweighed his fledgling and forced commitment to faith.
When I lived in France, I was taught about the French term "betise," which was a great word for the pranks and practices of young boys doing dumb things. As I read Billy Boy
, the first word that came to mind often was "betise." Billy Boy
gets its name from what the author's father (and others for that matter) called him when he was in trouble or involved in yet another misadventure. Billy Boy seemed to be constantly finding mischief and in this book, he describes his personal anecdotes with style and flair.
Some of his earliest memories are associated with his family's embarrassing 1938 Oldsmobile and how he used to slump down in back, avoiding being seen by friends or others in that car. His reminiscences of growing up in a neighborhood full of Catholic mothers who conspired to keep him on the straight and narrow remind me of my own growing up years.
Remembering his first experience with a traffic signal in rural Townsend was hysterical; when as a preschooler he called a fire truck in the local parade by a term that substituted an "f" for the "tr" in truck resulted in the entire parade - bands, majorettes and all - coming to a complete, shocked stop.
And then the string of "firsts" in his teenage years also brought back memories - taking the driving test with a curmudgeonly officer, learning about sex and going to his first prom - are colorfully described in engaging detail.
My Thoughts (and a Misgiving)
I found myself really enjoying Billy Boy
, but it was quite a guilty pleasure. The language is a bit rough, which turned me off, and may offend others. The expletives were not gratuitous, and they fit with the story, but they were a bit too common and coarse for my taste. Other men will likely not find it as offensive, so I would only offer this as a caution for those who might prefer another reading choice.
With that sole exception, I found Billy Boy to be engaging, entertaining, and at times a taste of laugh-out-loud humor. I suspect that most readers will come away from Billy Boy feeling well entertained and finding that you had walked a few years in the shoes of an engaging writer, growing up as he did in a memorable family, a memorable community and with a set of friends, teachers and others who are reminiscent of his own.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy