Mark Slouka’s coming of age story – Brewster – set in the small town of Brewster, New York in the sixties, follows the lives of three unlikely friends: Ray, the abused Jimmy Dean rebel from the other side of the tracks; Karen, the beautiful girl from the good family who falls in love with him, and Jon Mosher, the narrator, a star runner on the high school track team who is battling the guilt of his older brother’s childhood death.

With strains of “Ordinary People” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” Slouka ties the lives together with an examination of how the young friends cope with their families and themselves while the history of the times – Woodstock, Kent State, the Vietnam War – evolves around them. Raw scenes of cruelty, hostility and hatred are countered with loving care and loyalty. As Ray tries to live with an abusive father, while trying to take care of his baby brother, Jon copes with his cold unloving mother who blames him for his brother’s death. The unlikely friendship between the two boys saves them – until the climax when an irretrievable incident threatens to destroy all their lives.

A fellow reader’s recommendation had me looking for this book when she described it as “literary fiction. Although I could guess where the story was headed, I still could not stop reading. I kept hoping they would escape Brewster and all that misery. Slouka follows through with a realistic ending, projecting into their adult lives. This is no happy ending, yet the point is made in the last lines of the book that stay with me – focus on how well the race is run, regardless of who wins:

Maybe we’d been meant to lose. Maybe, I thought, but he’d never believe it. He’d be sprawled out next to me, taking up space, and he’d smile that too-late smile and call the world’s bluff. So what if we’d lost? F… it. We’d run it anyway. We’d run it like it mattered.”