The Prince of Steel Pier

In a large, Jewish family, it can often feel like the amount of talking and arguing everyone is doing makes it nearly impossible to keep secrets from one another. But thirteen-year-old Joey Goodman is finding that secrecy is easier to come across than he first imagined. The Goodman family is on their annual trip to visit Atlantic City and help their grandparents run their hotel the St. Bonaventure. However, as the legalization of gambling is on the horizon, it is questionable whether or not the hotel will survive the impending influx of casinos. Joey finds himself unintentionally wrapped up in the affairs of some questionable gentlemen, and over the course of a transformational month, he must become clear on who he is and what he truly believes in.

This family-oriented middle grade novel immerses readers immediately in the Goodman home, filled with noise and banter as its many family members interact with one another. Though the chapters are long, they flow easily, especially as readers wait with bated breath to learn what happens next in Joey’s unpredictable life. August 1975 is a period of change for both Joey and the country as a whole, and historic references are inserted throughout the novel to anchor the story in its intended time period. From mentions of war, to questions of legality, to anti-Semitic sentiments, readers will find themselves learning about this period in American history while simultaneously enjoying Joey’s story. And though it takes place nearly fifty years ago, much of the narrative’s context is disturbingly familiar.

The dialogue in this book gives the narrative a specific and memorable structure, especially as each character seems to jump from the pages with their speech. Much of the story reads as though a Martin Scorsese film has been translated into a middle grade novel, focusing on human relationships across a variety of challenging circumstances. Joey is the primary character, and as the plot unfolds through his eyes, the reader discovers some of both the brighter and the more sinister elements of human nature and human existence. Whether he is worried about his immediate relationships with those around him or his connection to the great beyond, Joey is finding that becoming a teenager is not as easy as it may have initially appeared. This is a thought-provoking and engaging middle grade novel that is an enjoyable addition to library collections for young readers.

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