REVIEW: The Falls of Wyona by David Brendan Hopes

Official description: In The Falls of the Wyona by David Brendan Hopes, four friends growing up on the banks of a wild Appalachian river just after WWII discover, almost at the same time, the dangerous, alluring Falls and the perils of their own maturing hearts. Seen through the eyes of his best friend Arden, football hero Vince falls in love with the new kid, Glen. They have no context for their feelings, and the next few years of high school become a tense, though sometimes funny, artifice of concealment. The winner of Red Hen’s Quill Prize, The Falls of the Wyona is the first of three achieved (and several more projected) novels by this author imbued with the magical atmosphere of Appalachian culture.

My thoughts bit: This book felt like many things to me. The story is one long, campfire tale… or an epic poem of old. It’s beautiful and sad and bears witness to times we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss or forget.

Hopes takes readers on a journey to the world inhabited by young boys just after WWII. The tale is told by Arden, looking back on his youth from his adult life. Perhaps Arden’s reminiscing is colored in some ways by the life he’s lead since his youth, but the memories seem vivid as he begins his tale.

Arden, Vince, and Tilden are inseparable as young men. About the time Arden realizes Vince is his best friend, Glen arrives on the scene. Vince is immediately drawn to Glen in a way that Arden doesn’t really understand. He accepts the new closeness, even when he’s a little envious or feels left out.

The boys come together at Wyona Falls. It’s a location that the town doesn’t speak about really. People have died there, it’s dangerous, but for the boys, it’s a right of passage. The falls are like a secret because bad things can happen there – but that just seems to make it more important that they are found and shared only with close friends.

“Undifferentiated cloud of young male energy.” – Hopes in the Falls of Wyona

Vince invites Glen to the falls and when Glen does a reckless handstand on the edge of a cliff high above the falls, Vince feels different for the first time in his life. He sees Glen in danger and can’t put into words the way the emotion whirls dangerously inside him. Arden sees his friend’s discomfort and realizes that there is a bond between Vince and Glen that is unique… even if he’s not equipt to understand it.

As the boys grow older, their relationships ebb and flow. They make misguided choices. They don’t always understand the consequences of their actions. They become young men in a post-WWII world that still has very tight definitions of masculinity.

Hopes’ writing is artful and poetic without ever straying from its intended course.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to describe this book. It’s a story about the raw and unbreakable bonds of young friendship, it’s about the love between two boys during a time when it wasn’t accepted at all, it’s about becoming a man, learning to be passionate about things and realizing things aren’t as ideal as we wish they were.

All the characters in this story are on their way to becoming someone different, whether it’s a legend, a tragedy or a man reminiscing about his youth.

This book is full of the heat of almost-forgotten summers, the spark of first love, and the fierceness of friendship. There is misplaced hope, family bonds, promises, and adventure.

The warnings bit: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: depictions of mental illness, homophobia, homophobic speech, toxic masculinity, discussions about suicide, descriptions of dead bodies, descriptions of decomposed bodies.

I received an ARC of The Falls of Wyona by David Brendan Hopes from Red Hen Press via Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

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