Boy's Life by Robert McCammon
I was introduced to this book in the 11th grade, in which it was required reading from my teacher. And I've loved it since. Read and re-read and passed on and caused others to love it. Now I'm sending it out to the interwebs. McCammon is an author from Birmingham, Alabama, mostly known for years spent writing in the Southern Gothic/Horror genre, but this gem is his one-and-only (so far) shot at the coming-of-age novel, with a mystery and magical realism twist. Can you imagine why I love it? Didn't think so. At any rate, the story is set around a 12-year-old boy growing up in a small Alabama town in pre-civil rights 1964. He witnesses a murder and begins to question everything about what he thinks he knows about the world. You see it all through his eyes, eyes that like to see the best in people and in things, trying to hold on to the whimsies of childhood and belief in magic... all while watching a murder mystery unfold and deal with a trying time to be growing up in the South.
Just do yourself a favor and read the epilogue and tell me if it doesn't get you the least bit interested:
"You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn't realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by the silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present, and into the future. You probably did too; you just don't recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God's sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they'd allowed to wither in themselves."
(C) Boy's Life by Robert McCammon, 1991. (HB) (Recently re-released in paperback.)