Sunday, January 15, 2012
Open Wounds by Joseph Lunievicz
Cid Wymann has hardly been out of his apartment until the day he secretly follows his grandmother to her Saturday church services. Little does 7-year-old Cid know that this small feat of daring will open up a whole new world, because, you see, his grandmother isn't bound for church at all, but to the matinee of Captain Blood. On this day, Cid falls in love with the world of film not to mention that of swashbuckling sword fighters.
Life isn't easy for Cid, though. His father is a drunk, and his grandmother is so strict she hardly lets him out of the house. Just as Cid is making his first friends in Siggy Braun and Tomik Kopecky who band together to battle the bullies in their Queens neighborhood, Cid's father disappears and his grandmother dies leaving him orphaned. When Cid ends up an orphanage, he learns that he can't count on anyone and that the easiest way to solve problems is with his fists. Cid's on a long road to nowhere when his badly wounded World War I vet cousin, Winston "Lefty" Leftingsham shows up and makes of himself an unlikely hero. A former Shakespearean actor, Lefty takes Cid under his wing and introduces him to acting and soon enough has him practicing fencing with a down on his luck, drunken Russian fencing instructor, who once taught fencing to the Tsar's court but now finds himself in exile.
Open Wounds is one of my favorite YA reads of the year, nay one of my favorite reads of the year period. Lunievicz brings Depression/World War II Era New York City vividly to life. You can feel the cold wind buffeting Cid and his grandmother when they come up from the subway where a sign cautions to "hold your hat." Everything from Cid's hard-up Queens neighborhood where his neighbors on the verge of eviction mount a last stand against the police to the "Jewish Quarter" of the Lower East Side where Siggy ends up trying to make ends meet by selling pickles is perfectly detailed.
Lunievicz's characters leap off the page. They are perfectly unique, fierce on the outside but with hearts of gold that render them hugely sympathetic as their histories are revealed. Cid is lost and damaged after a childhood of being abused and abandoned. He's grown a tough outer shell, but his childhood love of movies and his dreams of fencing are still alive. Lefty is not the savior every kid dreams of, rather he is a badly disfigured eccentric veteran whose morphine habit and rough exterior make him hard to get close to, but he's much more than that as Cid (and readers!) get to know. Cid's fenching instructor, Nikolai Varvarinski, is a sloppy drunk, but a gifted teacher, and even he is more than what he seems. Each character has a carefully drawn backstory, which is slowly revealed, that informs their actions.
Readers will find themselves unable to resist rooting for this misfit crew as they prepare Cid for an ultimate fencing showdown that will resolve much unfinished business from his past. I was utterly captivated by this redemptive coming of age story. There's struggle and triumph, laughter and tears. Lunievicz has crafted a story that it's easy to get lost in, full of characters that should be unlovable or even downright repellant, but who feel like family when the last page is turned.
(Disclaimer: I met Joe Lunievicz at a BEA event, where we enjoyed a lovely evening at Serendipity 3 compliments of JKS Communications. He is super-nice, and I picked up a copy of the book from the Book Blogger Con swag pile with some trepidation because, for some reason, I worried I might not like it and would have to write a "meh" sort of book review, which I would have done, because that's what I do when the book calls for it. But I need not have worried, and really, *you* need not worry, because I am in no way compromising my reviewish integrity by saying I loved this book because I really did. Is this overkill on the disclaimer front?)