Book Review: Last Summer Boys #Vietnam #comingofagefiction

This is another book I read last fall for the November issue of Historical Novels Review, the magazine of The Historical Novel Society.

It is 1968 in rural Pennsylvania when Jack Elliot overhears the bartenders in his town complaining that famous boys don’t have to go to war. He sets out on a mission to make his brother Pete famous and keep him out of Vietnam.  Enlisting the help of his visiting cousin, Frankie, they begin to plan a mission, led by Pete, to find an old fighter jet crash site.  Thus Jack begins an adventurous summer with his brothers Pete and Will, and his cousin Frankie.  Pete bravely says being drafted would be an honor, while Will is a big fan of Bobby Kennedy and follows him closely in the news.  Then there is Frankie, the visiting “city-boy” cousin, out to prove he is strong enough to run with them.

In a volatile time when Martin Luther King has just been murdered and tensions are at a breaking point, we travel to Pennsylvania to watch Jack try to save his brother’s life.  At the same time, bullies abound on all sides.  There is a childhood bully, biker gangs, and the biggest bully of them all—the government, who is trying to take their land and flood it for a reservoir.  As he enters this life-saving summer, we watch Jack’s coming-of-age story as his plans take an unexpected detour.  We feel the aftermath of Bobby Kennedy’s murder through Jack’s grieving brother Will, and we see what happens when people join together to fight injustice.  The characters are wonderfully complex and the story takes meaningful twists and turns, from adventure to mystery to small town politics.  This well-woven novel will keep you captivated and immersed in the politics and family struggles going on at that time.   I recommend this book to anyone interested in beautifully written coming-of-age stories or in Vietnam-era fiction set in the U.S.


Bill Rivers grew up along the creeks of the Brandywine Valley in Delaware and Pennsylvania. A graduate of the University of Delaware, he earned an MPA from the University of Pennsylvania as a Truman Scholar, one of sixty national awards given annually for a career in public service. Bill worked in the US Senate before serving as speechwriter for US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, developing classified and unclassified messages on national security and traveling throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. He and his family live outside Washington, DC, where he still keeps a piece of a crashed fighter jet they found in the hills of southeastern Pennsylvania. Find him on Twitter and Instagram.

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