Ryan's Woods: A South Side Boyhood Fifty Years Ago

Ryan's Woods: A South Side Boyhood Fifty Years Ago

by Patrick Creevy


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The year is 1962. The family of fourteen-year-old Kevin Collins, caught in white flight, has moved from Beverly, its South Side of Chicago neighborhood, to the city's northern suburbs. The field of Kevin's most formative boyhood adventures was Ryan's Woods, the great South Side forest preserve, mysterious, beautiful, running along the city's western edge a full mile from 83rd Street to 91st. It now serves as the frame for his memories. Memories of a villain enemy, of games hard-fought as wars, of moments of fear or courage, of moments that transcend racial division, and of first love in all the pure strength of its innocence. Memories, still fresh, of best friendships that Kevin now feels will be forever unrecoverable. And memories especially of his greatest friend, Jackie Leonard, whose death at age thirteen has moved Kevin to turn memory into story.



In this raucous coming-of-age fable, a gang of Catholic schoolboys bonds, fights and absorbs tragicomic life lessons amid an urban arcadia.

Kevin Collins is an average tween at Christ the King school on Chicago's southwest side circa 1960, but the titular municipal green space near his house seems nearly as full of mythic adventure as Sherwood Forest. The woods are an idyllic spot for sports, after-school forays and first kisses, though they also harbor more unsettling things: a tree on which a young boy hanged himself; a frightening nude man; the possibility of a violent ambush.

Ranging through the forest with Kevin are his band of buddies, including manic prankster Frankie Malone and born-leader Jackie Leonard, a boy of such preternatural athletic talent, courage, empathy and grace that he's nothing short of a two-fisted playground saint. Also prowling about are their hated rivals from Vanderkell public school, led by a psychotic bully named Val Prizer with a mysterious grudge against Kevin, and black kids navigating racial tensions as Chicago's system of neighborhood segregation starts to break down. The author pegs his tale on a loose-jointed, episodic narrative of football and baseball games, aimless jaunts and tremulous encounters between Kevin and his crush, Patty.

Much of the book is simply Kevin and his friends hanging out and being boys, a setting rendered with vivid, funny, pitch-perfect atmospherics as the lads razz and wrestle each other, spew profanity, plot moronic japes and ponder the world through a lens of puerile goofiness. (Sample philosophical inquiry: "Malone asks Pete if God could eat the entire human race, blood, guts and all, and not be grossed out.") Creevy conveys a boyish worldview with rapturous intensity-a single, sublime at-bat can take up three pages-and he can make even the gross seem sweet, while shading in darker uncertainties around the edges...he writes with a gusto, humor and conviction that are sure to draw the reader in.

An entertaining yarn brimming with youthful energy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937484118
Publisher: Amika Press
Publication date: 03/28/2013
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Patrick Creevy grew up on the South Side of Chicago, moving to the northern suburbs at age fourteen. He received his Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard University in 1975 and has taught at Mississippi State University since 1976. For the last seventeen years he has divided his time between his farm in Mississippi and his home in Evanston, Illinois. He has five children and eight grandchildren and has been married to his wife, Susie, for forty-two years.

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