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The pleasure of a good story, simply told

Tony Earley's sequel to 'Jim the Boy' delivers Depression-era pathos.

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The Blue Star By Tony Earley Little, Brown 304 pp., $23.99

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Tony Earley's novels are the Shaker chairs of American literature. They're well-made, sturdy tales that are stripped of excess and postmodern gimmicks, and they just might last you forever.

His 2000 novel, "Jim the Boy," became a surprise critical darling and bestseller by taking the tools of children's literature and bending them to a book for adults. It was a brilliant idea: Adult bookworms (at least of the genus ) are constantly searching for a book that will hit us the same way the ones from childhood did, and usually coming up short.

Its sequel, The Blue Star, probably won't sneak up on people quite the same way, but that's mostly to the good. The more folks who find Earley's novels, the more happy readers there'll be out there.

In the first book, Jim Glass was a 10-year-old being raised during the Great Depression by his widowed mother and a trio of loving uncles in the mountain town of Aliceville, N.C.

In the sequel, it's 1941 and World War II is raging in Europe. Jim's now a senior in high school and reeling under the force of his first love. The object of his adoration is Chrissie Steppe, who unfortunately happens to be the girl of Bucky Bucklaw, who's stationed in Hawaii.

Jim can't stand Bucky, who was "the kind of baseball player who blamed his glove when he booted a ground ball, or his bat when he struck out," but honor is honor.

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