This poignant and moving novel begins and ends with Nelson, a young teenager in 1962 who spends his summers at a Boy Scout camp. Nelson is an overachiever who is bullied unmercifully by his mates. His only (occasional) ally is a popular boy named Jonathan.
The story follows Nelson and Jonathan and succeeding generations from Jonathan’s ill-fated marriage. Each generation comes back to the same Boy Scout camp every year, striving to meet a model held out for decency, honor, and bravery — a code, as it were, to live by. As the story progresses, Nelson, once belittled, is now revered for his service and perceived act of bravery in Vietnam. And, as his first scout master predicted, Nelson becomes the director of the camp.
This story ends with a tragic event at Nelson’s camp that involves Jonathan’s daughter-in-law and his grandson Thomas. The event redeems Nelson and teaches Thomas about the kind of bravery the scouts alone never could.
The Hearts of Men, by Nickolas Butler. Ecco/HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06246-968-7; $26.99.
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