Tony Johnson dreams of attending university while living with an unemployed father, a submissive mother, a gangbanging brother, and a younger sister dealing with teen promiscuity and its consequences. Tony’s bright future grows dim as all the people in his life begin falling apart making Tony choose between his family or his future. Oh, I almost forgot, the Johnsons are black and they live in the Bronx.
The whole premise sound incredibly trite. It is incredibly trite, but the writing of Roy Pickering makes Patches of Grey an extremely worthwhile and compelling read. Pickering’s characters are so deep and fleshed out that they don’t fall into horrible clichés. We are lead to believe that Lionel, Tony’s father, is a stereotypical underachieving urban father with a drinking problem. But quickly Pickering delves into Lionel’s past and things aren’t so easy. Lionel is haunted by his past and the feeling that he has always been inadequate for the ones he loves. Instead of explaining this to his family he beats them down with verbal and physical abuse in hopes of lowering their expectations in a “white man’s world.”
The plot moves with incredible swiftness. Though we may know where it’s all going on the outset, Pickering’s love for his characters makes us empathize with all of their plights. By the second chapter we are engulfed in a world of gang violence and broken hearts; it appears sappy but it isn’t. Patches of Grey reminds me of The Outsiders. Pickering mirrors S.E. Hinton; each author has a deep understanding of the culture they are representing.
I want to call Patches of Grey a young adult novel, but I don’t want to diminish its power and quality. I only label it so because its themes are important for teens to read and analyze. Pickering doesn’t pander to his readers; he presents all the information through his character’s commentary of situations.
Patches of Grey is only available on Amazon at the moment, but hopefully we’ll find Pickering’s work on the summer reading shelves of B&N soon.
Review copy provided by author.