I Still Love Joni James
A Boy Grows in Brooklyn
Chris, the protagonist, is a successful, middle-aged businessman who lives in an upscale Long Island suburban community. The novel begins in the present, in a chapel where friends and family have gathered to pay their last respects to Chris� father, Joe. Joe�s dying regret is that he didn�t do more for his son. Chris� internal conflict is that he believes his father�s life to have been a failure � he raised his family in a coldwater flat, never earned more than a small wage, and did not have the means to buy expensive gifts� Chris feels guilty for not being more of a comfort for his elderly father. His preoccupation with chasing the dollar, searching for material success, led him to distance himself from his relationship with Joe and much of his family. At the funeral, a childhood friend of Chris� arrives leaving Chris to wonder what happened to the rest of his old gang.
In the process of dealing with his father�s death, Chris goes to clean out his father�s apartment and finds a stash of old newspapers, obsolete 45 rpm recordings, old photographs, etc. He thinks � Is this it? Is this my inheritance? Big deal! Junk! He takes these �treasures� home with him and browses through this dustbin of his personal history, triggering a memory flash which takes him back to the summer of 1954.
Chris goes back in time to the old Italian neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn, where he grew up. The novel vividly portrays the strong values of a working class Italian American family and the interaction of family and friends. We meet his parents, Rosie and Joe, his grandparents, Jennie and Peppino, and an assortment of oddball and goofy, neighborhood characters, and a gaggle of relatives that will make you laugh and cry.
It�s Brooklyn, of course, and what�s Brooklyn without the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, and sandlot baseball. We get woozy on the Cyclone ride at Coney Island and �doozy� at the confraternity at Our Lady of Loreto RC Church, dodging the killjoy six-inch rule of the parish priest, Father Barretta. Movie stars and singers, popular in the fifties � Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Joni James � are brought to life with unbridled affection. We witness the sinister side of a working class neighborhood and meet the thugs and gangs that menace the community � Mango, Tom-Tom, Axe, Da-Da, Dead Man, and Giubalina � their colorful language and deadly actions. Chris meets an older boy, a college student, who opens Chris� mind and heart to the world beyond East New York � and makes his life richer and more exciting.
As the story unfolds, Chris remembers the many things he did with his father� fishing at Peconic Bay, boxing matches at the Eastern Parkway Arena, movies at the Colonial theater� When the flashback ends, Chris is left with a new vision of what makes a true inheritance.
Born, raised and educated in Brooklyn, New York, Jack Bilello, a former Fulbright Scholar and member of Phi Beta Kappa and Kappa Delta Pi (the National Education Honor Society) lives on Long Island with his family. A former Chairperson of History at Lindenhurst, NY public schools, he is currently a field supervisor at Dowling College, Oakdale, Long Island.
Although a devastating shoulder injury as a teenager destroyed his boyhood dream of becoming a major league pitcher, he has avidly pursued those two imposters, victory and defeat, in golf, tennis, jogging, swimming and other sports arenas. In addition to his current novel, I Still Love Joni James: A Boy Grows in Brooklyn, Bilello has published two previous novels: Bonds of War, a WW II-Vietnam historical fiction was privileged to have its dedication page chosen by the State of Florida�s Veterans Association to honor the American fallen. American Patrol, currently in its second printing, is a suspense action thriller and was a publisher�s nomination for the National Book Award. Both novels are being considered for major motion pictures Three short stories, A Last Chance to be a Boy Again, A Piece of the Heart and Brother�s Keeper are slated for future publication.
Mr. Bilello has appeared as a guest speaker at a variety of conferences, author�s luncheons and panel discussions including the Donnell Library Center in New York City, the New York State Library Conference in Saratoga, New York, the Grout Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, the Long Island Writers Guild, and the Brandeis University Women�s Club.
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