It’s Up to Charlie Hardin

Review: It’s Up to Charlie Hardin, Dean Ing, 2015.It's Up to Charlie Hardin

Another February partly spent in Texas and parts between there and Minnesota. The books I took along were the Texas-centric Roadside Geology of Texas, Charles L. Harness’ Cybele, with Bluebonnets, and Dean Ing’s latest novel.

With the first sentence of the preface, Ing tells you this is not one of his usual books and what kind of book it is:

This is the sort of confession a man may indulge in if he is too lazy to commit the autobiography his grandkids asked for, and too self-absorbed to scribble the books his publishers wanted more of. It is also naked homage to Mark Twain, who in 1875 half-fictionalized the lively times he had enjoyed in his Missouri village thirty years earlier.
The setting for Ing’s version of Tom Sawyer is the Austin, Texas of 1944. (The book jacket has the wrong date.)
There are some typical Ing features: accident and the human emotions of pride, avarice, and ego tangling lives and leading to a collision of characters. This is not the first book of Ing’s to feature young characters in prominent roles.
But there are no fantastic elements. No espionage despite the mention of Nazis. And the only planes are model ones.
But it is a charming story told in a sardonic, wry voice not afraid to point out portentous connections to events the character are oblivious to and point out his characters’ foibles.
Our characters are
  1. The impulsive, stubborn, and prideful Charlie Hardin
  2. Charlie’s smarter and more prudent friend Aaron Fischer who still finds himself pulled into Charlie’s schemes
  3. Roy Kinney, sneaky, whiny, not too bright and 10 years old to Charlie and Aaron’s 12.
  4. Jackie Rhett, budding juvenile delinquent and something of a bully, fat, fast, and rather smart.
  5. Lint, Charlie’s clever and loyal dog.
Rounding out the cast is Charlie’s dad, a juvenile offender officer with the city, Charlie’s mom, a couple of criminals, and Eugene Carpenter, budding sociopath and criminal genius at age 13.
In the months between April and June 1944, Charlie and Aaron wander from diversion to diversion: model airplanes, combining melons and giant slingshots, flaming tires, wandering the capitol grounds of Austin seeking treasure and the storm drains of Austin responding to dares.
It was an age when kids like Charlie and Aaron weren’t feral or neglected — just normal, and a kid like Charlie wouldn’t find himself with a Ritalin prescription.
Ing tacks on an afterward hinting at the lines of between autobiography and invention.
I recognize the spirit of Dean’s story even if my boyhood, three decades later and in a very different setting, shared few of the events in Charlie’s boyhood.
All in all, a book that should appeal to many beyond Ing’s usual readership.
A Small Criticism
Charlie and Aaron seem a bit too naïve about the nefarious doings they come across. I’m not sure I would have been that naïve. Perhaps that’s what those three decades did in eroding innocence. Or maybe I just spent more time in the library than Charlie and Aaron.
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