Boy at the Crossroads
Paper Raven Books (2021)
Reviewed by Cynthia Hammell for Reader Views (08/2021)
“Boy at the Crossroads,” is the biographical fiction story of Conley Ford, as written by his wife, Mary Ford.
Conley Ford came from a large and impoverished Tennessee family. His parents had sixteen children, two didn’t survive to adulthood. His father had a job with the railroad, but his parents struggled to support their large family. His father was a hard taskmaster and outside of school, the kids’ lives were full of chores and taking on extra jobs. In 1955, when he was thirteen, Conley and his friends were caught joyriding. An older boy figured out how to start up parked Mercury sedans and they would drive them until they ran out of gas. Conley was able to get off easily, but soon decided he wanted to leave home. He thought he could manage on his own because he looked sixteen. He hitchhiked to Florida, then ended up in New Orleans for a while where he could fend for himself by selling tamales and hotdogs to bar customers at night. This was just the beginning of his story.
The author, Mary Ford, a retired, award-winning journalist, gives the book a conversational tone. She writes in the first person and the story may be the result of multiple interviews. She tells the story of an ambitious and resourceful young man in the middle of the 20th century. Conley’s early life may be best summed up by a quote, “While I was generally a good hardworking boy, I was still up for adventure and having a good time -even if it wasn’t entirely legal. (195).” Ford does an outstanding job of sharing her husband’s story. As she calls it “a novel inspired by a true story,” she added details to lend more authenticity and interest to Conley’s memories.
The book is also about family relationships. Conley did spend time living with his parents and siblings throughout the book. Near the end, when he leaves home for the final time after high school, he has regrets about his father. In the epilogue, written in his words, he says, “Like many of you, I had a difficult dad. My deepest hope is that my two sons, Jarret and James-of whom I am immensely proud will read Boy at the Crossroads and come away with a better understanding of what made me the father I was (258).” He also cautions younger readers against hitchhiking.
“Boy at the Crossroads,” by Mary Ford is a well-paced book, which readers may be interested in out of nostalgia or to find out about the lives of an older generation.