Tender and Funny Look at Catholic School

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If Wally Lamb’s book “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and I were to hug, I would be the one to let go last.

Every once in a while the first sentence of a book is so brilliant, I am instantly transported and immersed.   In this case, by brilliant, I mean capturing the simplicity and complexities of being a kid in Catholic school in the early 1960s.

After the first sentence, “The year I was a fifth-grade student at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School, our teacher, Sister Dymphna, had a nervous breakdown in front of our class,” a tender and funny story unfolds.

The story is told from the perspective of Felix, now a man, remembering events of his 5th grade year in 1964.  The novel is comprised of anecdotes, one as enduring as the next.  Felix helping out in the family business, a lunch counter inside a bus station, school field trips where someone throws up, and the casting of the very important Christmas play.

Lamb captures the subtleties of the time period, creating a realistic and nostalgic look at being a Catholic kid in the early sixties.  One of the many hysterical passages is the description of Felix in confession, admitting he had French kissed a poster of Annette Funicello, who also happened to be his distant cousin.

Although I did not attend Catholic school, I have heard enough stories from friends who did, seen enough depictions on TV and in the movies to appreciate the Catholic school humor.  As you read the book it is hard to believe it is a novel, not a memoir.

Lamb’s first two novels, “She’s Come Undone”, and “I Know This Much is True,” both became No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.  “Wishin’ and Hopin’”, which was originally released n 2009 with the title “Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story,” is the perfect read over the holidays.

Lamb, who is a native of Connecticut, holds a B.A. and an M.A. in education from the University of Connecticut. He earned an M.F.A. in writing from neighboring Vermont College. He is back in his old stomping grounds, teaching creative at UConn.

If you have a bookstore gift card burning a hole in your pocket, consider “Wishin’ and Hopin’” is available in paperback for $13.99 and will be sweeter than

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