One reviewer applauded the author for writing “an emotionally taut story of growth.”
Strong Boy, Weak Man (ReadersMagnet; 2019) by Earl Robert Key is an inspiring story of an African-American youth’s determination and perseverance amid racism, poverty and family issues in the Jim Crow South. The novel follows the life, trials and later successes of Michael DeAngelo Nicholas, born to a sharecropping family in rural Mississippi.
Michael DeAngelo is full of dreams and ambition but he struggles with serious learning deficiencies in school and lacks an emotional support system at home. It doesn’t even help that his family is poor and would later break up due to his father’s infidelity.
Nevertheless, Michael DeAngelo is determined to turn his life around. He begins to learn barbering and shoe shining; take up sports at school; and hits the books. Of course, he also has time for romance. He later moves to Memphis, where opportunities and women are aplenty, and so are the challenges.
Philip Zozzaro of Manhattan Book Review gave the book 4 out of 5, saying Strong Boy, Weak Man is “a moving look at a boy’s transition into manhood.”
“Mike represents the dreamer in many of us and the willingness to buck conventions when failure is not an option,” wrote Zozzaro in his review. “Mike is fallible, but you find yourself rooting for him to succeed in life and love.”
The book also received the same rating from San Francisco Book Review’s Kristi Elizabeth, who called it “a wonderful story with a promising and likable main character” and praised the storyline for being “easy to follow and full of interesting events.”
Tulsa Book Review’s Jessica Tingling praised the book for its positive message of determination and perseverance to readers. She said, “Strong Boy, Weak Man reminds readers that a positive outcome is only one constructive decision away. Anyone can turn their life around and make a dramatic change… Strong Boy, Weak Man reminds readers that a positive outcome is only one constructive decision away. Anyone can turn their life around and make a dramatic change.”
Johnna Rocker-Clinton of Seattle Book Review gave the book five stars. As much as he enjoyed the book, he could also relate to the story.
I even cried a few times; maybe that’s because I have a few dogs in this fight. I am an educator by trade, and I, too, am a black American from the rural South. Mike’s story reminds me of my father, who struggles with spelling, worked as a farmer growing up, and had little inspiration to think big or be great as a child. There are countless stories of poor black men who were considered the worst in our society but proved to be the most tenacious.
Pacific Book Review gave Strong Boy, Weak Man a star awarded to “books of excellent merit, calling it “a novel that will entertain and enlighten readers about a boy’s journey to manhood.”
Dylan Ward’s review for The US Review of Books touches on the psychological and social aspects of the narrative, saying:
Key’s immensely detailed novel highlights the limitations and traumas of an underprivileged boy facing uncertainties of adulthood amid a changing American landscape. Here, Key fondly recalls the glory days of high school football and youthful yearnings that are juxtaposed with family hardships, personal relationships, and political and social strife. Although fictional, Key’s novel feels somewhat autobiographical as he wrestles with themes of fathers and sons, inaccessible dreams, and the pressures of a rural coming-of-age. While, at times, the wordy narrative and sparse dialogue can elicit neutrality toward the self-destructive Mike, the reader still celebrates and roots for Key’s protagonist by the end of this sympathetic and tenderhearted tale.
Quote: “The novel also showcases the cultural parts of the decade as well with Mike attending James Brown and Temptations concerts that lift his spirits.” Pacific Book Review
Strong Boy, Weak Man
Author | Earl Robert Key
Publisher | ReadersMagnet
Published date | July 20, 2019
Paperback price | $16.20
About the Author
E. R. Key was born in January 1950 in Enid, Mississippi. He attended and graduated from Patton Lane High School 1969 in Batesville, Mississippi. He married in May 1977 and divorced in July of 1988. Earl is the father of one son and two grandchildren. Earl Key currently operates as a master barber in Memphis, Tennessee.