Emmet and the Boy - David Wilson, VVA Veteran

Terence O’Leary’s Emmet and the Boy: A Story of Endless Love and Hope (Swan Creek Press, 241 pp., $12.99, paper; $8.99, Kindle) is a work of fiction written for young adults as were many of O’Leary’s earlier works. This book is every bit as strong as O’Leary’s 2017 novel, Bringing Boomer Home. There is a lot in the new book about the process of dying from cancer and Hospice. Since I am currently dying from cancer, I found a lot to identify with.

The Old Man, the main character of this story, suffers through the lingering death of his wife, the love of his life, and tries to find the will to go on living. His grandson was abandoned by his father following his parents’ nasty divorce, and is hiding in a fantasy world.

Somehow, the mismatched aspect of their generations makes it possible for them to communicate. They hide out at Grandpa’s lakeside cabin way out in the Michigan woods. The Old Man, Emmet, tries to help the boy, Colin, heal, as he himself begins to heal by getting over the death of his beloved wife.

The book consists of simple short chapters. Some are just discussions between the Old Man and the boy about the meaning of life or past experiences. My favorite chapter comes late in the book when the subject of war rears its ugly head.

“You were in the Army?’

“Just for a couple of years.”

“Were you in a war?”

The Old Man does not want to talk about the war, but he goes ahead and does so. He’s asked if he killed anyone.

“I was a medic. My job was to try to save people, not kill them.”

“That’s cool. I bet you were good at it.”

The Old Man goes on to discuss further the Vietnam War.

“They say time heals all. It doesn’t. The memories of Viet Nam are still with me like ghosts in the corner.”

I highly recommend this sensitive book to young adults, and to those who are not so young. O’Leary is one of the best writers currently writing to this audience.

The author’s website is www.terenceoleary.com

—David Willson

Emmet and the Boy - Kirkus Reviews

A man who recently lost his wife spends two weeks with his grandson in an idyllic Michigan lakeside setting in this novel.

O’Leary (Irish Crossings: Danny’s Story, 2018, etc.) introduces readers to Emmet Hyland just before the most heartbreaking moment of his life, as cancer takes his love of 50 years, Mia. The couple’s only child, Jackie, shows up with her 13-year-old son, Colin, and Emmet barely has time to grieve when he is put in charge of the teen. Jackie and her new boyfriend are taking a vacation, and although Emmet doesn’t know his grandson very well, he feels obligated to take care of him. It’s awkward at first, as Colin keeps his head in his iPad and Emmet tries to figure out how to feed and entertain the kid. As it turns out, a little time hiking and learning to kayak on the lake is just what Colin needs to help him get over the hurt of his father leaving. And teaching Colin these things is just what Emmet requires to come to terms with Mia’s death and learn how to keep living. O’Leary’s tale is unabashedly sentimental, and it has no guile. Everything is played close to the surface, as in the scene where Emmet visits the box containing Mia’s ashes he carefully placed at the bottom of the lake: “I found my Mia nestled among the seaweed. The package was ragged. I don’t know if it was natural deterioration or if the fish were pecking away. I knew it didn’t matter to Mia. She was where she longed to be.” The metaphors are plain—Mia’s box dissolves as Emmet gains his footing and feels useful again helping Colin. The way Colin finds his confidence is fairly predictable. But in the author’s hands, these things are more comforting than cloying, and the story doesn’t overstay its welcome. This novel could have been a syrupy mess, but instead it is an affecting read.

A sweet, moving family tale.

Bringing Boomer Home - The VVA Veteran

Terence O’Leary writes acclaimed, realistic, coming-of-age novels that focus on teenagers facing family crises. The crisis in Bringing Boomer Home (Swan Creek Press, 238 pp., $11.99, paper; $7.99, Kindle) relates to the war in Iraq and to young men who leave small-town Friday night football behind to serve in that conflict.

Cody and Boomer are brothers who were stars on their high school football team. When Boomer graduates from high school, he chooses to join the military and go to Iraq to become a warrior. He saves the lives of three buddies who were being burned alive. In the process of trying to save them, Boomer is horribly burned. His face and his hands need months of reconstructive surgery.

The Vietnam War is often referred to in this book, as Cody’s girlfriend is part Vietnamese and lives with her grandmother who is 100 percent Vietnamese and who lost part of an arm in the war in Vietnam. Boomer’s father encouraged him to join up, but his mother was against the idea. This was a source of family conflict, especially after Boomer comes back to the United States hideously scarred.

Boomer spends many months in rehab and eventually returns to his community. Cody’s girlfriend Kim, a photographer, prepares the community for Boomer’s return by creating a photo essay. Kim’s grandfather was a Vietnam War photographer and there is much discussion of other Vietnam War photojournalists, including Larry Burrrows, Catherine Leroy, Eddie Adams, and Nick Ut.

The title gives a lot away. The final third of the book is devoted to what steps are taken to bring Boomer home to his community. These steps are risky and complicated, but they work out—after a fashion.

This is a Young Adult novel, and one expects that since it is aimed at young people, it will have a hopeful conclusion. Those are the kind of books that Terence O’Leary writes and this one is no exception. There is no real villain, except for perhaps the war.

The book ends with yet another football game. I’ll let you guess who wins: Cody’s team or the Panthers.

This is an excellent YA novel, and one that this not-young adult enjoyed reading.

The author’s website is www.terenceoleary.com

—David Willson

Irish Crossings - Irish American News Ohio

Irish Crossings: Caitlin & Paddy’s Story by Terence O’Leary ~ Available at Amazon & Kindle

This is a new novel by a Toledo man, Terry O’Leary. There have been other books written about the Irish Potato famine, but this one (Historical fiction) is an easy read, which is almost impossible to put down. Many Irish Americans have no idea of the history of their ancestors and the struggles they endured. Many of us do not realize the heart breaking decision of which family members would leave Ireland, while the rest of the family stayed for a certain death of starvation. The telling of Caitlin and Paddy’s travel to reach their ship gives a description of the terrible living conditions of those Irish people affected by the famine. Please show your pride in your heritage by purchasing this book for yourself. After reading it, you might wish to purchase one for your children and/or grandchildren. A lesson in their heritage would make a wonderful Christmas present.

Here in the words of the author, is how Irish Crossings came about; “Irish Crossings grew out of a conversation with my children and grandchildren at Christmastime two years ago, when we talked about our ancestors. The Feeney’s, on my mother’s side, were forced to flee Ballinasloe, Roscommon County, Ireland during the time of the Great Hunger. Their crossing to America planted the seeds for this story and inspired my journey to Ireland to research the novel. “Irish Crossings is a voyage of love, partings and new beginnings in the time of the potato famine. The novel is told in the time-honored tradition of an Irish storyteller. A great-grandmother on Christmas Eve reflects on her beloved Gigi. “Caitlin and Paddy’s compelling story is a realistic portrayal of the struggles in Ireland during the time of famine and the heartbreak of the millions who were forced to flee their native land; the young lover’s journey across a beautiful country that is overwhelmed with sadness. They endure a harrowing winter crossing through the treacherous North Atlantic, but the slums of New York are not the end of the rainbow they were promised. Through their voyage together they learn the true meaning of the Irish saying, ‘It is in the shelter of each other that people live.’ In my heart, I am a storyteller and the story of the sorrows our ancestors endured during the Great Hunger need to be honored and passed along to today’s generations.”

“John O’Brien, Jr. Co- Publisher / Editor, Ohio Irish American News wrote the following about Irish Crossings: ‘Throughout our often-tragic history, the stories of immigration emerge from our grandparents, or theirs. Yet through it all, the one thing, the reason you and I are now alive and well in America or across the Irish Diaspora, is the enduring power of love. So it is with this ‘Irish Crossings: Paddy and Caitlin.’ Their perseverance is so complicated, their love is timeless, and their story, is ours.’”

Terence O’Leary was born in Chicago, Illinois, but has spent his teenage and adult life in Northwest Ohio. Irish Crossings is his fourth novel.

Terence O’Leary’s web site: www.terenceoleary.com

Irish Crossings - Toledo City Paper

Most of us will never have to endure the profound hardships of our ancestors. Surviving a famine, voyaging across the ocean with only the clothes on your back or leaving your entire family behind to seek a better life in another land are not modern, first-world problems. And while these struggles still exist around the globe, most of us are only likely to encounter them in the pages of historical books like local author Terence O’Leary’s latest work, Irish Crossings.

Though fictional, the story of Paddy and Caitlin, a young newlywed couple emigrating from Ireland, is based firmly in fact. Set during the late 1800’s Irish Potato Famine, Irish Crossings speaks for many real-life immigrants who crossed oceans in search of a sustainable life. For his fourth novel, the UT grad (Class of ‘72) actually ventured to the Emerald Isle to research the real world events and locations that comprise the story. And with his Irish heritage, the former salesman relates that his new book is his most personal.

Why did you start writing?

When I started, back at Central Catholic, I loved reading. I imagined myself like Hemingway, traveling around the world telling stories of my adventures. In college, I started writing my first book and I had an agent, but we couldn’t get it published. Then, I got married and had kids and had to find a real job. It took me 30 years — I wouldn’t call it a midlife crises— but at 50, I realized what I wanted to do and if anything was going to be of lasting value, it was going to be through writing. And that’s when I went into writing full-time. I started writing (my first book) More than a Game in 2000. It took me four years to get it where I wanted it to be.

Why are all your protagonists teenagers?

I think the biggest influence in my (writing) life is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It actually changed my life. To be able to look at someone else’s life through their eyes, especially teenagers today. Everything is new and exciting for them. And their depth of emotion is much larger than adults, what was a major crises when you were a teenager, as you get older, you realize was just a bump in the road. I really wanted to let teenagers know that they’re going to face all these adversities in life, but you can overcome them.

Do all your stories take place in Northwest Ohio?

The first three stories were all set in Northwest Ohio. My first, More Than A Game, a baseball story is about the Mud Hens. Bringing Boomer Home was set in Grand Rapids, Ohio. It’s like stepping back in time when you’re out on Main St. there.

What inspired you to write Irish Crossings?

After writing my sports trilogy, I was going through withdrawals, saying, “What am I going to write?” [My family] was sitting around the dinner table and we started talking about our ancestry. I ended picking up a book, At Grandpa’s Knee by Sister Mary Angela Finney and Patrick L. Coleman, and it turned out to be a history of my mom’s side of the family and how they came from Ireland to America. I read it and thought, “This would make the basis for a fantastic story.”