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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
If you read, as I did, James Sniechowski’s book Worship of Hollow Gods and liked it, you will enjoy picking up An Ambition to Belong, where the author takes us inside the next key phase in his life: becoming a teen and moving on to high school. Jimush, as his mother calls him, is still very much the loner seeking some kind of recognition of his worth, along with an identity beyond his Polish “village community” where the Catholic religion and its prescription for staying out of hell rule most behaviour. With An Ambition to Belong to more than what his father and family embrace, he makes a feeble attempt at joining a gang. But he soon realizes that he is essentially a timid good kid whose battles with the dictates of his Catholic upbringing and his own conscience make him unsuited to gang membership.
He has no better luck trying to fit into his new high school, Catholic of course. The more preaching he hears, the more he tunes out. In fact, he finds it’s far more interesting to watch the rich kids nearby who drive Corvettes and wear high end clothes and shoes, none of which he can afford. He pictures maids cleaning their homes and instantly draws comparisons to his hard-working mom who does all the cooking and cleaning in their own home, accepting her fate as a poor immigrant housewife with a hard-working and sometimes simply hard husband. Like Jimush, she has unfulfilled hopes and dreams of being someone more than she is.
And as James Sniechowski did in his first book of this memoir trilogy, he tells much of this story through his protagonist’s mind, using dialogue only as needed, and building ever so slowly to a rather climactic finish. If readers are happy with such introspective memoirs and don’t look for lots of action, they will enjoy this coming of age memoir, with its raw and honest emotion, its insights into what makes people tick, its reminders of the music and times in 1950s Detroit, and especially the realizations that Jimush makes at the end about the ridiculous prejudices that keep races and cultures apart, killing understanding and communication and fostering intolerance.