The Speed of Light

The Speed of Light

by Ron Carlson

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Larry, Witt, and Rafferty have a whole summer to play all the different kinds of baseball, to build structures in the backyard, to find out what makes the world tick. "We've got to keep busy," says Witt. "I want to know everything. Not just part."

Larry doesn't want to know what keeps him heading for Witt's backyard, rich with weeds and rotting appliances,

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Larry, Witt, and Rafferty have a whole summer to play all the different kinds of baseball, to build structures in the backyard, to find out what makes the world tick. "We've got to keep busy," says Witt. "I want to know everything. Not just part."

Larry doesn't want to know what keeps him heading for Witt's backyard, rich with weeds and rotting appliances, whenever he's not at baseball practice. All he knows is that there's no one he'd rather be with than these two friends, that the chaos of Witt's universe offers refuge from his own orderly home and an entrance into a world of change, growth, and unpredictability.

The Hotel Eden author Ron Carlson's first novel for young readers is a heady immersion in the first moments of adolescence, when nothing is as it ever was before.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
"This is what we know about death, right here," Witt Dimmick says to his friends Larry and Rafferty, pointing at the burned-out remains of a TV set that was, moments ago, the stage for their latest mad-scientist experiment (trying to revive Witt's pet lizard, killed by his abusive father). It's a typically stoic musing from Witt, an odd child forced to grow up too quickly. But Larry, the story's narrator, is the fish out of water here: he is a good student from a good home, and his parents cannot understand why he spends so much time with his troubled friend. Larry, for his part, doesn't understand, either-but he is drawn to the "special chaos" that is Witt's life. The boys conduct experiments to try to make sense of their world, digging a "geothermal pit" to reach the earth's core (they quit after a few feet) and constructing a crossbow to retrieve the violin Witt's father hurled into the trees. Carlson (The Hotel Eden, for adults) divides the book into three sections, one for each month of the boys' summer exploits, and this structure is both the novel's strength and weakness. The framework emphasizes accurately the malaise of being 12 years old and not knowing what you want from life, but while individual episodes stand out here and there, the overall effect is akin to a high-minded Beavis and Butthead, minus the laughs. Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Twelve-year-old Larry can't wait for school to be over for the summer so that he can spend his days playing every possible kind of baseball with his friends Witt and Rafferty. It's the 1950s, and for this soon-to-be-teenager, nothing could be better than a summer of endless days playing and exploring. Baseball is the game he and his friends obsess about, but his best friend, scientifically minded Witt, finds the world fascinating and wants to explore it all. Under Witt's tutelage, the summer becomes just as much about trying to revive dead crocodiles, shaving cats, and trying to speed up the aging process through gravity as it is about America's pastime. It's a memorable summer of delicious days and endless nights out under the stars for Larry. All is not idyllic, however, and after this summer, nothing will ever be quite as innocent, or quite the same, again. As the three boys move out of childhood, some difficult truths come into focus, including abuse and family dysfunction. This novel will appeal to readers of all ages although some elements of the book will be more accessible to older readers. Young male readers, especially those in early high school or junior high, will relate to Larry as he deals with the onset of puberty, when girls, who have fallen well behind baseball on the list of interesting things, suddenly become interested. The characterizations of each of the boys is razor sharp and powerful. Witt, who sublimates his anger over abuse into scientific study, is especially well drawn. 2003, Harper Tempest, 280 pp., Ages young adult.
—William Konigsberg
Children's Literature
Three best-friend boys finish up sixth grade, then spend a lazy summer playing variations of baseball and doing "science experiments" while trying to ignore the inevitability of seventh grade, puberty, and one abusive father. Set probably in the early 1960s in what seems to be a small town, this memoir-like fiction has all the alternating charm, hilarity, anger, and outrageousness that adolescent boys are prone to. These boys are terribly vulnerable and trying hard not to let it show, but they are tough, too, and manage to survive most scrapes. There are wildly funny scenes�such as trying to revive a dead pet alligator by hooking him to electrodes, an old TV, and a battery, or the scene of Mr. Witt missing the driveway and taking off the corner of the house as well as taking Mayleen's quilt and stuffed elephant right off her bed. Although the boys are 12 years old, this is definitely for 14 year olds and up. The book might well have been published as an adult title, and reminds me a bit of Harris and Me by Paulsen. 2003, HarperTempest,
— Beth Guldseth
The three months of summer between elementary school and junior high provide rich material for Ron Carlson's coming-of-age story about growing up and playing ball in the fifties. The story is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Larry, an observant boy who notices the changes that are rolling through his group of classmates—and himself. Larry's primary goal is as it has always been: enjoying the company of his two best friends, Witt and Rafferty, throughout the summer. The boys play as many variations of baseball as they can come up with, conduct wild experiments to discover how the world works, and explore their poor neighborhood from end to end. Sometimes they strike out, sometimes their experiments explode, and sometimes bullies chase them, but these three are always there for each other. This summer, though, change is in the air. Rafferty is drawing closer to a couple of guys who have already traded in chasing baseballs for chasing girls. Witt, while still focused on exploring the principles of physics and nature, is engaging in more violent and destructive conflicts with his abusive father. Larry is caught off guard by these changes, as well as by changes in himself. The attraction he's started to feel for girls is unexpected and startling. From the moment he first really looks at a girl's body to when he experiences his first kiss, Larry's world is tilted off course. After this summer, it may never feel truly on course again. Librarians considering this book for their collections should be aware that Larry experiences his first erection and orgasm during this story. While these occur tastefully and in a nonsexual context, they may make this book a controversial selection formiddle school librarians. Nevertheless, Carlson's story is a richly detailed look at growing up. In spite of its older setting, the themes of friendship and discovery are sure to resonate with youth today. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, HarperCollins, Tempest, 280p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Heidi Hauser Green
Through this novel's pervasive air of nostalgia, readers are treated to a tale of a summer before middle school, in an era that predates Nintendo, video, and uninterrupted television viewing. Witt, Rafferty, and narrator Larry are full of energy, methodical planning, and determined execution of their mischievous experiments in science, baseball, and life. "Our lives are a series of record attempts," from skinning the cat, to drowning the dog, to 99 times records, and on to the opposite sex. In a book that recalls images of Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine (Whittlesey House, 1958), Spanky and Our Gang, and The Wonder Years, each chapter divulges another set of antics, problems, and revelations. Chapters open with a scientific definition, such as the speed of light, combustion, or rituals of courtship. This reviewer's favorite line of their male-bonding experience is, "after dinner, we're free for hours of daylight, which might as well be piles of money." Distinct personalities unfold as adolescence emerges and family problems are adeptly woven into this story. Readers will wish to find Witt, Larry and Rafferty at work in their neighborhoods. Recommend their story to middle schoolers who appreciate the mischief and mysteries of summer. PLB
— Nancy Zachary
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-The difficult and mysterious slide from childhood into adolescence is described in this unusual novel. The book is set in a rather rough-and-tumble, working-class neighborhood during the 1950s or early 1960s. Early in the summer, Larry and his friends concentrate on their innumerable ball games, breaking the sleep-out record, and conducting their elaborate and dangerous science experiments, which mostly entail blowing objects up or mangling them in some way. As the summer goes on, however, things change for the boys as their lives subtly shift and their interests begin to broaden. Larry stands up to a bully who has terrorized his younger brother and finds himself noticing girls for the first time. Readers see most of the changes through his first-person narration that is beautifully written, yet manages to seem like the genuine voice of a boy on the verge of becoming a young man. As compelling as this novel is, though, it is not for everyone. Some will find the story slow moving and uneventful. In some ways, it is more of a book about childhood for adults. Yet, many teens, especially those who appreciate great writing and who can take a distanced look at their own lives, will find Larry's account to be absorbing and to ring true in many ways.-Todd Morning, Schaumburg Township Public Library, IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In the summer that he's 12, Larry and his friends, Witt and Rafferty, do what boys do in this literary, if not quite satisfying, coming-of-ager. Larry tells it all in the first person, and he's terrific at describing the bone-deep perfection of long summer days, playing Car Baseball, or Bottle-Cap Baseball, or even Little League. Witt's father beats him, and Witt beats his sister; Witt copes by trying to find the scientific reasons for everything. His experiments take the form of boyish stunts like sleeping on the roof, and rather more dangerous ones like seeing how much pain his little brother can endure. The climax of the summer comes when the nearsighted Rafferty finally gets to play in the Little League All-Star game, Larry goes to a party and gets kissed, and bad things happen to Witt. What boys do (but not why), bullies, parents, and sleepovers outside are carefully limned, but readers never lose a sense that this all happened very long ago (the late '50s, to judge from the song "Earth Angel") in a downtrodden small town near Everywhere. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
4.46(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.54(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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