I've had the pleasure of growing up in the Wissahickon Valley and spending much of my time exploring this wonderful area. PJ Devlin not only brings the splendor of this area just outside of Philadelphia to life, but creates a compelling narrative set in the mid-1800's, exploring the relationship between a free black family and a wealthy white farm owner and his family. It was eye-opening to me to read about the conditions free black families endured prior to the Civil War - truly an under-represented note in our history. The main character, Claire Penniman, grows from a young child to a strong, mature woman during the course of this novel. Claire is independent, determined, and a gracious soul. PJ Devlin explores the discrimination faced by Claire and her community, but makes that reality all the more powerful by emphasizing Claire's kindness and strength. However, the reader never loses the sense that Claire and her family live with a subtle fear caused by the rampant racism they faced. The novel takes an interesting turn, turning the tables as Claire lives in Haiti for a period of time. In addition to the fast pace and excellent writing style, I particularly enjoyed PJ Devlin's use of periods of time to move the novel along (instead of the more traditional chapter breaks). PJ Devlin's descriptive style does great justice to depict the wonder of the Wissahickon Valley, and has created a memorable story about a time in our history that deserves more attention. This is a novel that will capture your interest from the start. I cannot wait to see what's next from this author.
you can’t wait to find out what happens—all the while not wanting it to end. Joan—Joni—and finally Jonika comes of age in the tumultuous late 60s. For those alive at that time, every skillfully woven detail: perfumes, cigarettes, pop tunes, events like the moon landing, and social revolutions evoke powerful memories. Today’s young adults will discover a hero who, having lived through the hard knocks in that volatile world, could empathize with their own Twenty-first century angst. And offer some help, hope, and comfort.
P J Devlin brings to life a gallery of marginalized characters, including Jonika’s parents who find their world crumbling amidst war, drugs, sexual revolution, and race riots. Readers experience the hopeful antidote to madness in the life-affirming summer camp for urban Philadelphia black kids. When the very white, blond-haired Joni becomes the swim coach/counsellor at the camp, a whole new world, very different from the stereotypes her family believes in, opens up to her.
I was amazed at Devlin’s spot on depiction of adolescent love and high drama. She nailed the girls, the boys, the adults. More than that, the writing is first rate. No matter one’s age, gender, or race, readers will learn from those campers and the good-hearted staff how to find joy in adversity. Devlin’s wisdom and compassion shine forth from every page. !
Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek is a collection of ten short stories. Some have been published before, one is to be published in 2017. This gives the reader an insight into the mind of a developing writer. If I had to develop a linear scale that on the low end would be marked “tame and nostalgic” to the high end marked “amazing and surprising,” these stories could be placed on that line in their order of presentation. For me, the writer who wrote the first story is a different writer from the one of the last story. But they are all good. Following are my takeaways on each story.
"I Wish It Every Day" Julia and Mary were life-long friends but hadn’t seen each other in a long time. Mary was surprised late in life to again meet Julia. She had always known Julia to be self-centered but that hadn’t stood in the way of their friendship when they were young. It took the appearance of Connie, a new “mutual” friend to initiate the mature development of Mary. Julia never got it.
"Piece Man" The title of this story is brilliant. I could not help but think of the homonym of the first word in the title. Would the story make equal sense? I thought so.
"Original Sins" This is a highly emotional story of the break-up of a family due to closely held secrets. A lot of secrets. Look at the title and think of the Catholic church. Frank loved his mother. His mother wanted Frank to become a priest. So Frank loved the church, Frank loved the teachings of Father Smith and Father Smith loved Frank. Way too much. And that secret is the tamest one to be revealed in this story. Read to find out the story of Frank’s dad, his mother, and his sister. Is there any hope for Frank as he tries to go home again?
"The Witch" Sometimes when people have nowhere to turn in dealing with a life-threatening emergency they will try any measure, even calling upon a witch. And when (surprise) magic works, there is a debt to be repaid. Betsy James is working on it.
"Roll On" Some songs once heard will just never leave you. You might feel tempted to sing along but you don’t because you feel silly doing so, especially in public. Althea learns to get over her shyness. Just sing it.
"The Decline and Fall" Helen is forty-two years old and still living with her mom. But not for too much longer. Mom sold the house and told Helen she was on her own. Where could Helen go? She finally found a job as a volunteer to serve meals to elderly shut-ins. There was no pay, but when Helen met Gloria she saw an opportunity. Gloria was eighty-eight and wouldn’t be around much longer. She had a house, a nice car she didn’t drive, and a lot of jewelry she didn’t pay attention to. If she became Gloria’s BFF, the future looked good. And near.
"Withered Hope" Joe was in a bad car wreck and was lucky the stranger appeared to help him. He couldn’t have made it home without help, possibly he couldn’t have stopped the bleeding. The stranger didn’t like to talk much but assured Joe that he did not want any form of repayment. He had felt the call of someone needing help. Sometimes help might even require a form of replacement therapy.
"Muscle Town" Evan had always had trouble fitting in. Even with his parents. In a memorable line on impressions of Evan “His parents, however, despaired of the preppy conservative fellow who entered the world through their flower-child loins. Peace, love, and rock and roll was their motto. Evan was a Republican.” (loc 1969-1971). Essentially, Evan was a nerd. When Jimmy Boyd joined Evan’s firm Evan was extremely jealous. Jimmy Boyd wasn’t slick or well educated, he seemed one level above a street thug. But he was popular. Who will win in this contest for company leadership? The answer is a surprise.
"Pogo’s Bridg" Pogo was a dwarf. Brother Willie always took care him, included him in activities and protected him from the scorn of others. In 1979 Pogo, Willie and friend George played a game. They dared to cross a bridge that had frequent trains. The idea was to get across in between train appearances. Willie lost. In 2016 Pogo would revisit the bridge. What was the result of that visit? Read the story.
"The Lantern" Willow used to be afraid of monsters until she was “introduced.” And now she would introduce the (unnamed) protagonist of this story.
This is a very good collection of short stories to fill work day time-outs. Maybe I have read stories from her before and not known it. I don’t pay a lot of attention to pseudonyms that authors use and PJ Devlin seems to use a few. I will look for more of her work after figuring out where to look for it.