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September 03 , 2010

On The Balls Of My Feet


Book Review, September 2004:

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Del Casino crafts an engaging and vivid portrait of a young man attending a competitive high school in the 1960s. Told through first person narration, the always observant narrator might remind some readers of Salinger´s Catcher in the Rye.

The narrator is preparing to take the AP calculus final exam of his senior year of high school. As he waits to start the exam, he reminisces about freshman year. Characters are fresh, and descriptions of their clothing and the language they use make it easy to get caught up in the story. Intending to take my time and read the book over a couple of evenings, I found that I had to finish it in one sitting.

The 1960s setting will appeal to young adults who are interested in those tumultuous years as well as young adults just looking for a good read. Situations described in the book are still relevant to today´s youth. The narrator deals with trying to fit in at school, avoid bullying from the rough crowd of students at a neighboring high school, and solve a hometown crime committed by a gang member.

The book is well suited to its target audience; however, strong language and some plot elements might be objectionable to some parents. However, the prevailing themes are rejecting violence, being fair, and finding ones own place in the world. I would recommend this well written book to teenagers as well as adults.

By Sarah Lomas,


On The Balls Of My Feet is about 100 days in the life of a high school freshman opening his eyes for the first time to many new experiences and the anxiety and exhilaration of not knowing what´s coming next. It´s the story of a reluctant but curious 13-year-old boy that leaves a sheltered middle class environment to attend Xaltus, a highly competitive school situated several miles from home in a crime ridden inner city neighborhood.

Through a series of flashbacks, the boy narrates the story of his early days as a freshman from his perspective as a graduating senior preparing for and taking his last high school exam. The introduction provides a glimpse of the older, wiser senior and briefly introduces some of the important characters around which the story revolves. After a brief encounter with a pre-freshman student and a delay that prevents the senior´s exam from getting underway, the senior thinks back to his own freshman year.

The book consists of two intertwined stories. The first is about a freshman coming to grips with the usual issues, fears and challenges that have faced adolescents throughout time. His plight is heightened by the intellectually and physically demanding setting of his school and the neighborhood in which it resides. We learn about school through the numerous descriptions of his various classes and classmates. There´s his math teacher, an aging, stern and brilliant mathematician and former contributor to The Manhattan Project. In sharp contrast is his young hippie Chemistry teacher, who our narrator suspects became a teacher to provide access to the means and ingredients of making drugs. His flamboyant and colorful History teacher introduces him to the gritty (if not sordid) side of European History. A young attractive English teacher stimulates his interest in literature and fuels his adolescent sexual fantasies. Other characters also make lasting impressions on him.

In addition to a variety of colorful teachers and classmates are his two best friends. Lenny is the street-smart wheeler-dealer with a knack for persuasion and a vindictive streak. Gilbert is the bright eccentric capable of great intellectual achievements, but falls short in managing life´s practical tasks.

We learn about the crime and violence our main character learns to live with through descriptions of his run-ins with gangs of students from the neighboring high school. On

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