It’s 1975, and thirteen-year-old Joey Goodman is spending the summer at his grandparents’ declining kosher hotel, the St. Bonaventure, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Joey sometimes feels forgotten as the third of four brothers in an otherwise loving and lively extended family. When he’s not helping out at the hotel as an unpaid waiter-in-training, Joey explores the boardwalk, a landscape that is shifting now that gambling has been legalized. Casinos will soon populate the area, threatening older businesses like the St. Bonaventure and altering Joey’s future.
When the teen encounters a group of local mobsters who seem particularly impressed with his Skee-Ball abilities, his summer plans are irrevocably changed. The boss, Artie Bishop, takes a liking to Joey and soon offers him the opportunity to chaperone his visiting teenage daughter, Melanie. Although Joey feels conflicted about these new connections, which require him to lie to his family, he’s also enticed by the monetary agreements that afford him more than enough money to purchase the camera he’s been eyeing. Plus, Joey can’t help but feel proud to have earned the trust and appreciation of someone like Artie. Despite knowing that things are definitely seedy behind the scenes, Joey finds himself becoming further embroiled in the group’s activities. When he unwittingly involves the St. Bonaventure and puts his family in harm’s way, he must come to terms with his deceptions, choices, and true loyalties.
Joey’s Jewish identity is inseparable from the story, in large part because his family is observant and practicing. The book also touches on other aspects of Jewish life, like Joey’s experiences with antisemitism and his thought-provoking insights and questions about religion and God.
Although some of the predicaments Joey faces are not typical teen experiences, his voice feels authentic, and readers will empathize with his struggles and inner monologue as he adapts to a changing world — and the detailed setting of Atlantic City during the seventies adds a compelling layer.
Filled with mystery, mayhem, and meaningful relationships, this fast-paced historical novel will capture any reader’s attention.