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Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite
Set against the backdrop of the summer of 1956 on a farm in Michigan, with reminiscences of WWII and the threat of nuclear war, The Cherry Pickers by Gregory C. Randall is a coming of age story that follows the life of Howie, a teenage boy with a deformity on his arm, a deformity he uses to scare his friends. He isn’t loved by his aunt, who is an alcoholic and who unloads her invective on him, but his grandmother treats him with compassion and tenderness. While life in the orchard is seasonal and neat, with the last row of trees standing on the old lake bluff above and the forest below, young Howie Smith sees beyond its limits a world of infinite possibilities; he sees it in the primeval Michigan woods spread below the limits of the orchard, and that becomes his world and fief. Against the backdrop of this setting, the author creates the story of a family, exploring the dynamics of relationships, their fears, and a young boy’s unique adventure with life.
The characters feel real, like people we walk with every day in life. They are real when they cuss, they are real when they moan in pain, and they are real in the simple gestures and conversations that punctuate their daily life. Apart from Howie, the protagonist, I enjoyed Uncle Frank, a character who epitomizes Gregory C. Randall’s gift for humor. Randall has a wonderful gift for narrative and the prose is evocative and lyrical, filled with wonderful images. A whole delight in itself and a world for the reader to explore.
The style is unique and I enjoyed the references to the war, and as per Charlie, one of the characters, there is so much to worry about, should another war break out: “The world’s tired of war. That war they say is coming is too horrific to think about. … It would be a war with no refugees, Hiroshima showed the world that.” How does one as young as Howie, living on a farm, handle the thoughts of impending war? Is the woods a form of escape for him or a mere place of adventure? The Cherry Pickers is a gorgeous story that unveils the thoughts and fears, the hopes and threads that bind together a rural people.