So the more impressive among you may just remember how, in my round-up of 2015, I mentioned that my favourite novella I read that year wasn’t due out until 2016. Well, with a release date of 22nd July confirmed, I have finally gotten the green light to talk to y’all about Jedi Summer. And disclaimer: I know John Boden, and I’m proud as hell to count him as a friend. That said, my usual rules of reviewing apply - if I don’t like it, I don’t review it. Also, in John’s case, it’s worth noting I was a fan of the mans work before I got to know him personally
Jedi Summer is the best novella I read last year. As of July 2016, it’s also the best I’ve read this year. It’s a book that, in my view, does basically everything right - all the parts work together in perfect sympathetic harmony to create a tale of bruised beauty and aching melancholy that will crack your heart.
It starts with the voice - Boden has an exceptional prose style, one of the great authentic voices working in horror literature right now - honest, smart, unpretentious, yet lyrical. He has a turn of phrase that will frequently make you either grin or wince with recognition. He’s often cited Bradbury as an influence, and there’s a healthy dose of the southern gothic in general, but Boden is his own beast, the needle following a groove that is his and his alone. There’s as much of Patterson Hood or Mike Cooley of the Drive By Truckers in his words as there is that Bradbury sense of the fantastic lying just under the skin of the world,and there’s a vivid quality to his storytelling that both commands attention and keeps the pages turning at a rapid rate.
All of the above could apply in general terms to any of his work that I’ve so far read. In Jedi Summer, though, he finds some amazing higher gear, some sublime stream-of-consciousness-meets-memoir lucidity that feels like a kind of alchemy. What Boden does here is summons the ghost of the Summer of 1983, breathes life into it, puts meat on the bones, and then sends it roaming into your mind. He also takes you inside the head of a bright, imaginative blue collar kid, living with his mom and younger brother just one step ahead of the breadline.
Boden utterly eschews sentimentality, and the novella sings as a result. The unvarnished reality, the warts-and-all presentation spares no-one, especially the author. There is beauty here, even nobility, but it’s scarred beauty, it’s angry, even sometimes embittered nobility. The sheer honesty and unvarnished nature of the storytelling is breathtaking.
What we have here is part exorcism, part time machine. Lurking under it all is a powerful rumination on the passing of time, the power of time to sometimes heal, sure, but also how the past can never, will never, let you go - how much the things you do define you for better or worse, regardless of intentions.
Put as simply as I can, Jedi Summer puts you there in a way few authors would ever be able to achieve. It’s as good as American Rust, and almost certainly more honest. Boden is a horror writer, but this novella is genre busting and frankly unclassifiable - except perhaps, simply, as one of the finest, most heartfelt coming of age stories you will ever, ever read.