It’s 1970: Adam Miller is twelve and entering seventh grade at a new school. His family recently, and with some suddenness, moved to a new part of Queens. He is preparing for his bar mitzvah with a supportive and mysterious new cantor. He’s a sweet and confident kid, but the world around him seems increasingly complex and confusing.
His parents let him ride the subway to Yankee Stadium for Bat Day with his friends. It’s a marvelous moment of independence — and then his group is mugged on the return trip. Later in the summer, a girl holds his hand on the bus at camp, but apparently, that isn’t enough to cement her status as his girlfriend; he has to talk to her. He takes the advice of his father, and later, after another mugging, the advice of the police, only to learn that those authority figures may not be the right people to turn to after all. He makes a new friend, or an enemy — he’s not sure which. Adults compliment his kindness, intelligence, and maturity, but they also seem to speak in shadowy half-truths. Adam begins to wonder if the Miller family moved not only for a bigger house with a yard, but because of something nefarious. He thinks he knows, only to realize he doesn’t. Still, our likable protagonist goes along, always doing his best.
This coming-of-age novel takes us through Adam’s bar mitzvah year. With humor and pathos, Futterman chronicles the changing loyalties of Adam’s friend group; his awakening political consciousness; the shifting racial dynamics of New York; family tragedy; and, quite charmingly, Adam’s emergence as a theater kid. It can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly what’s happening around Adam, but that is only because Futterman is brilliant at depicting the murkiness of the world of adolescence. No matter how old you are or where you’re from, reading Adam Unrehearsed will make you feel young again, in all the best ways.