Rick Niece’s memoir, Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher, eloquently evokes the author’s fondest memories of childhood, drawn from his experience growing up in small-town America. It is actually the first book in a series called Fanfare for a Hometown (the second book, The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore, comes out in July and is available for pre-order now).
Side-Yard Superhero is a charming look at how a young man’s character and values are formed through his experiences and relationships. Niece calls the style “automythography,” which he explains this way:
We would expect the recounting of our lives to be works of nonfiction, and they are. Most importantly, they are what we think we remember and how we think we remember it. The things that have happened to us and the people we have known all become iridescent memories based upon the author’s truth and personal narrative. Those memories are an automythography.
This author’s narrative centers around his neighbors and the people he met through the paper route he held for several years. Having had a paper route or two in my time, I could definitely relate to the quirks of personality you encounter on that job. While I remember having to carefully time my collections with the arrival of monthly government support checks, I also recall the middle-class gentleman who promised a tip if if I would put the paper between his screen door and front door each day, as well as the older retired customers who gave out extra monetary gifts each Christmas.
Rick, or “Rickie” as he was known then, faithfully served his customers and developed a mutual fondness with many of them. Standing above the rest was Bernie Jones, a young man with cerebral palsy who didn’t go to school, but instead spent most of his time sitting in his yard in his wheelchair. Rickie and Bernie first bonded over Dick Tracy comics, which Rickie would read to Bernie each day upon delivering the newspaper to his house.
Although Bernie was wheelchair-bound, he was constantly coming up with ideas for adventures. On one such outing, Rickie recounts taking him along on part of his paper route, up (and then back down!) a very steep hill, luckily without anyone or anything getting hurt. As Rickie matures, we see him begin to recognize the limitations placed on Bernie by society’s unwillingness to allow him in their schools or provide access to most of the places everyone else could go without a moment’s thought.
Rick eventually leaves his small town and embarks on a career in education, only seeing Bernie once after his family also moves away from the town. Until, that is, his mother calls him many years later to say that she has learned where Bernie ended up – in a nursing home near where Rick is scheduled to attend his cousin’s wedding – and Rick is able to see his friend one more time.
Highly recommended – this is a book you will want to share with someone else as soon as you finish it!
Through March 31st, celebrate National Disabilities Awareness Month with Dr. Rick Niece, who honors his superhero real-life friend with cerebral palsy in his new book by donating $1 per new fan to United Cerebral Palsy. Like his Facebook page and sign up here: http://www.facebook.com/rickniecelifelessons. In addition, $1 will be donated to UCP for every copy of Side-Yard Superhero sold.
Thank you to Five Star Publications for the review copy of this book. Trish blogs about everything from autism to books to daily life at In So Many Words.