This autobiographical tale begins with a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” It is a line of thought that appears many times as Marc Strauss recounts his middle school years. The son of Holocaust survivors, Strauss paints himself as an extremely well-read, ambitious, loyal, and sentimental but tough preteen. His father is a hardworking, self-made businessman, and his mother is a housewife, constantly cleaning and cooking.
Marc’s non-religious parents desire the best education for him, no matter the cost, and they soon decide that he must transfer from the local public school to a yeshiva in Queens. Marc encounters many types of characters on his daily four-hour journey to school and takes upon himself the task of protecting his weaker younger brother.
Strauss describes each person and place from his past in great detail, supporting his claim to a photographic memory. He comes up against a variety of ruffians as much as he gains positivity and perspective from good role models — people like his librarian, his teachers, and his father.
Throughout the book, there runs a dark yet matter-of-fact note of parental child abuse. Marc keeps the incidents to himself, believing that his silence will protect him from physical pain. Instead of fighting off this cruel figure, he becomes stronger-minded and more determined to overcome all challenges — including multiple critical health issues, bullies at school, and the mistreatment of his beloved pet — through strength and reasoning. He remains a caring brother, even dedicating this writing to his sibling’s memory.
The book ends with a sampling of the author’s published poetry, so we can experience his many talents.