Supposedly the best time of your life is when you were a teenager, the reality is that being a teenager sucks — I speak from living through these years twice, once myself and once with my son. A teenager lives through seemingly unbearable disappointment, unfulfilled dreams, and an inexplicable horneyness. In Hardway (Shotgun Honey / Down & Out Books), Hector Acosta nails the psychological landmines of the teen years in a crime novel no less!
Too often in crime fiction, we are inundated by the similar cover art over and over again. Hardway is different and Bad Fido has done a fantastic job creating something different.
One of the big drawbacks of writing coming of age novel is that writer needs to know when to include and exclude the parents. For example, Stranger Things did that extremely well with Winona Rider’s character but blew it with the cluelessness of the parents who unknowingly had a young girl living in their basement. Even though Hardway is about a group of teenagers spending the summer trying to fight off boredom, Acosta knows when to leave out the parents and when to bring them into the story.
If you read anything about Hardway, one of the big takeaways is that the book centers around backyard wrestling. While that might be true, the strongest focus is on the relationship between two teenage brothers who were once close and are now drifting apart.
Familiar pangs of jealousy and betrayal creep up Spencer’s spine like tiny spiders as he watches his brother open the refrigerator door and pour himself some juice. Last year, right around the time their mother left them, his brother discovered their father’s old weight set. It didn’t take long before Billy was skipping out on their usual Friday nights of eating burgers and playing videogames, preferring instead to spend his time with newfound friends and chasing after girls.
At least they still had wrestling. Spencer can still remember sitting cross-legged next to Billy on the carpet of their parent’s old bedroom, staring in awe at the television and watching giants trek across a blood-stained ring, punching each other for the approval of the crowd. His father would occasionally chime in and name whatever move the wrestlers did, while their mother rolled her eyes and reminded him for the hundredth time how Billy and Spencer were too young to watch so much violence. This was before she became sullen and closed off to the world, long before she packed up and left.
It was also before their father’s company got outsourced to India and he had to start working at the new call center. Before Billy shed sixty pounds, joined the football team, and started to ignore Spencer any time they crossed each other in the school’s hallways.
Spencer’s other antagonist is Eddie Tornado who heads an opposing backyard wrestling show, the Woodlawn Terrace Federation (WTF). In one wrestling scene, Eddie Tornado wears “red and yellow tights and black wrestling boots which add two inches to his height. His mohawk stands at full attention, his chest glowing in the sun …”. He’s everything that Spencer is not. As the teenagers begin to spiral out of control, Hardway becomes something more than a coming of age story, it becomes a crime fiction novel without losing any of its original credence. Acosta has written a remarkably true book about growing up. Don’t miss it.