Boy Underground – Catherine Ryan Hyde

The year is 1941 and Steven Katz is awaiting his turn at baseball tryouts. He’s particularly enamored with a Japanese schoolmate who is also trying out for the team and is starting to understand he has an attraction for the same sex in a time when such behavior is abhorred. When Suki strikes out, and leaves the field, Steven follows him, and strikes up a hesitant conversation, and soon he, Suki and two other teens, Ollie & Nick become fast friends. 

Soon, Steven is invited by his newfound friends to join them on a camping trip to the mountains. While his uptight mother is reluctant to let him out of her sight, his father surprisingly agrees, telling her it’ll make him a man. They leave for the weekend in early December, enduring a grueling climb into the mountains, and set up camp near a beautiful, isolated lake. In a daring feat, one of the boys shucks his clothes and jumps into the frigid water, daring Steven to do the same. He does, and nearly drowns, but it pulled to safety by the other boys and they all pile into the tent they’ve brought, in an effort to warm Steven up. 

By the time they return Sunday, everything has changed, but they don’t yet know or understand why. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and suddenly, Japanese Americans, like Suki, are the enemy. Additionally, Nick’s father has been arrested after severely injuring a man in a bar fight, and he in turn, implicates his own son. Despite the boys’ alibi for Nick, they learn that the authorities are coming to arrest him, and Nick knows he needs to run. Steven, desperate to save his friend, hides him in an old, unused root cellar on his family’s farm, and keeps his a a secret, even from the other two boys. Shortly thereafter, Ollie decides to enlist in the military. 

As the winter progresses, internment camps are being built and soon Suki’s family will be rounded up. One night, he comes and taps on Steven’s window, bringing the family dog, asking Steven to keep the dog safe. Steven takes the dog to Nick, knowing his mother will not allow the pet, and the next day Suki and his family are gone.  With the war raging on, Steven and Nick nurture their friendship and their emotional bond, as both come to terms with their situations and their feelings for one another. When Nick is able, he moves on in search of his long-lost mother, leaving the safety of Steven’s farm and their burgeoning relationship, but promising to keep in touch…

This is a poignant, wonderful novel about a young man’s coming of age in a warn torn world, as he struggles to come to terms with who he is and who he is meant to be. There are deep themes nestled within its pages, that will have you both chuckling and weeping as you re-live Stevens story through his aging eyes, his long cherished friendships – and the memories he carries.  A beautiful read that will linger in your heart long after the last page is turned. 

Available 12/7/2021

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from #Netgalley & Lake Union Publishing, in exchange for an objective review.