Summer of the Monkeys
Wilson Rawls (Young Adult Fiction)
Up until I was fourteen years old, no boy on earth could have been happier. I didn’t have a worry in the world. In fact, I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to be hard at all for me to grow up. But, just when things were really looking good for me, something happened. I got mixed up with a bunch of monkeys and all of my happiness flew right out the window. Those monkeys all but drove me out of my mind.
It’s the late 1800s and brand-new country just opened up for settlement. The Lee family were sharecroppers in Missouri, but providence led them to a farm right in the middle of Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma. Life is good for fourteen-year-old Jay Berry and his parents, although a bit tougher for his sister, Daisy, who was born with a twisted leg and got by with the help of a crutch. It’s summer and Jay Berry has the entire farm to explore…not to mention he has his eyes set on owning his very own .22 and a pony. But then his grandfather brings word that some monkeys have escaped the circus and the reward to anyone who finds them is more than Jay Berry can count! With his grandfather’s help, Jay Berry sets off to find and capture those monkeys, even if it takes him the whole summer to do it.
I unashamedly admit that I am a complete pushover for any book where the parents are respected, the grandparents are revered, or a boy’s best friend is his trusted dog. Written in 1976 by Wilson Rawls—author of the classic Where the Red Fern Grows—Summer of the Monkeys has all three. Rawls gives us a lovely story about family, sacrifice, and faith and the importance of putting aside what your heart desires and instead focusing on what your heart requires. The writing is down-to-earth and folksy and the lessons are timeless. Today’s young adult readers may find the dialogue and situations a bit trite and hokey, but a story of a brother’s love for his little sister or a father’s pride in his son never truly goes out of style.
Throughout the book, Rawls shows us the strong bond of the Lee family and the particularly tender relationship between Jay Berry and his grandfather. On one occasion, Jay Berry mentioned to his grandfather how much fun the two have together to which the grandfather replied, “We surely do. You know, an old man like me can teach a young boy like you all the good things in life. But it takes a young boy like you to teach an old man like me to appreciate all the good things in life. I guess that’s what life’s all about.” Call me old-fashioned or sentimental, but books like this always remind me that whenever you have a loving family, a wizened grandpa or a furry companion by your side, life is never really all that bad.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com