The Prince of Steel Pier
A young teen falls in with the mob, and learns a lesson about what kind of person he wants to be
In The Prince of Steel Pier, Joey Goodman is spending the summer at his grandparents' struggling hotel in Atlantic City, a tourist destination on the decline. Nobody in Joey's big Jewish family takes him seriously, so when Joey's Skee-Ball skills land him an unusual job offer from a local mobster, he's thrilled to be treated like "one of the guys," and develops a major crush on an older girl in the process. Eventually disillusioned by the mob's bravado, and ashamed of his own dishonesty, he recalls words of wisdom from his grandfather that finally resonate. Joey realizes where he really belongs: with his family, who drive him crazy, but where no one fights a battle alone. All it takes to get by is one's wits...and a little help from one's brothers.
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About the Author
The Jewish faith is an important part of the story, as Joey questions his place in the community. He wonders how God can allow bad things to happen and questions how well he understands his religion. However, he's very loyal to his close-knit family, as his parents, brothers, grandparents, and uncle operate a hotel right on the beach. They practice their culture by eating kosher foods, visiting the synagogue regularly, celebrating Jewish traditions, and periodically speaking Yiddish. Joey's anger kicks in when he witnesses and experiences prejudice against Jews in the form of disparaging slurs and unintentionally offensive comments.
The inclusion of mobsters in a book for young readers is uncommon, as the story takes place during a time when casinos are forcing people out of their New Jersey neighborhoods by buying up their properties. Joey admires Artie, the mob boss in the area, and he's pleased when the man takes a special interest in him. Artie's thugs are clearly dangerous men, and Joey's frightened by phone conversations he overhears and threats he witnesses. Joey's relationship with the mobsters contributes danger and mystery to the plot, and the situation is further complicated when Joey becomes the "baby-sitter" for Artie's visiting daughter.
Honesty is an important topic in the book, as Joey struggles with the lies he's telling his brothers, parents, and relatives. They begin simply with misleading statements or half-truths but quickly evolve into flat-out deceit. Readers will notice how his deceptions get out of control until Joey finds himself in an unexpectedly dangerous situation. He wants to confess to his brother or grandfather, but the notion that things will get better at the end of the week is naive. Problems won't go away by themselves, and the only thing he can count on is family.
What didn't work as well:
As with many books for young readers, the main character gets himself into trouble beyond his control and tries to keep it secret from those who might help. Being truthful in the beginning will prevent future problems. However, in this case, being honest would undermine the conflict and plot, and the author wouldn't have a captivating, emotional story.
The Final Verdict:
Readers will immediately connect with Joey's character due to his kindness and good heart. They'll feel empathy for him as his problems mount and root for him when things look worst. Overall, I enjoyed this book very much, and I recommend you give it a shot.
It's 1975, and thir-teen-year-old Joey Good-man is spend-ing the sum-mer at his grand-par-ents' declin-ing kosher hotel, the St. Bonaven-ture, in Atlantic City, New Jer-sey. Joey some-times feels for-got-ten as the third of four broth-ers in an oth-er-wise lov-ing and live-ly extend-ed fam-i-ly. When he's not help-ing out at the hotel as an unpaid wait-er-in-train-ing, Joey explores the board-walk, a land-scape that is shift-ing now that gam-bling has been legal-ized. Casi-nos will soon pop-u-late the area, threat-en-ing old-er busi-ness-es like the St. Bonaven-ture and alter-ing Joey's future.
When the teen encoun-ters a group of local mob-sters who seem par-tic-u-lar-ly impressed with his Skee-Ballabil-i-ties, his sum-mer plans are irrev-o-ca-bly changed. The boss, Artie Bish-op, takes a lik-ing to Joey and soon offers him the oppor-tu-ni-ty to chap-er-one his vis-it-ing teenage daugh-ter, Melanie. Although Joey feels con-flict-ed about these new con-nec-tions, which require him to lie to his fam-i-ly, he's also enticed by the mon-e-tary agree-ments that afford him more than enough mon-ey to pur-chase the cam-era he's been eye-ing. Plus, Joey can't help but feel proud to have earned the trust and appre-ci-a-tion of some-one like Artie. Despite know-ing that things are def-i-nite-ly seedy behind the scenes, Joey finds him-self becom-ing fur-ther embroiled in the group's activ-i-ties. When he unwit-ting-ly involves the St. Bonaven-ture and puts his fam-i-ly in harm's way, he must come to terms with his decep-tions, choic-es, and true loyalties.
Joey's Jew-ish iden-ti-ty is insep-a-ra-ble from the sto-ry, in large part because his fam-i-ly is obser-vant and prac-tic-ing. The book also touch-es on oth-er aspects of Jew-ish life, like Joey's expe-ri-ences with anti-semitism and his thought-pro-vok-ing insights and ques-tions about reli-gion and God.
Although some of the predica-ments Joey faces are not typ-i-cal teen expe-ri-ences, his voice feels authen-tic, and read-ers will empathize with his strug-gles and inner mono-logue as he adapts to a chang-ing world -- and the detailed set-ting of Atlantic City dur-ing the sev-en-ties adds a com-pelling layer.
Filled with mys-tery, may-hem, and mean-ing-ful rela-tion-ships, this fast-paced his-tor-i-cal nov-el will cap-ture any reader's attention.