Conley Ford is at a crossroads of his life at 13, one of 16 children and living an impoverished life in Tennessee with a domineering and abusive father. Known as Connie, he is lost, but grounded in his reality that he can no longer cope. He is well-liked at school, but his father removes the one thing he loved to do there: football.
He makes bad choices, gets arrested, then impulsively chooses to run away from home. He hitchhikes to New Orleans, where he establishes a life for himself by finding a job and a place to live. Looking more 17 than his real age, he is resilient, powered by a work ethic that comes from a life of constant chores and farm work.
Connie gives school and his family more chances, but breaks out on his own again and again. He may not see himself as academic, but he is a study in maturity beyond his years—most of the time.
The final crossroads of his teenage years takes him to a place I did not see coming, but no spoiler here.
In 1971, eleven years after graduating high school, Conley meets Mary and they marry. In 2021, she publishes his story, Boy at the Crossroads: From Teenage Runaway to Class President, saying parts are fictionalized.
Coming-of-age stories are popular and this is one of the best I have read. Perhaps we are drawn to such stories because we all go through times when coping with the changes of childhood is difficult and the onset of adulthood is intimidating.
Mary Ford’s writing is wonderful and she creates an endearing character who tells his entertaining story. This is her first novel (based on her husband’s true story) after retiring as a journalist.