This Boy: The Early Lives of John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Viking. Aug. 2023. 192p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780451475855.
Gr 4-8–Introduced by chance at a church garden party in 1956, Lennon and McCartney bonded quickly over their love of the guitar and early rock artists like Little Richard and Buddy Holly, later deepening their friendship in shared grief when both lost their mothers in their teens. In chapters that sometimes focus on one and other times consider both, Cooper masterfully weaves the very different but overlapping lives of the two boys, beginning with John’s birth during the Blitz and continuing through their return to Liverpool from a residency with The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s. Lennon’s prickly personality and wild wordplay, compounded by his chaotic family life, is contrasted with McCartney’s loving extended family and his meticulous dedication to craft. Yet as Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Powell, is quoted as saying, “John needed Paul’s attention to detail and persistence. Paul needed John’s anarchic, lateral thinking.” Useful context includes descriptions of the explosion of youth culture after the war, including the stylish but often violent Teddy Boys subculture imitated by Lennon and others. An amazing trove of contemporaneous snapshots of the boys and their milieu round out the compelling narrative. The volume concludes with nine pages of source references, a full bibliography, and an index. The text is mostly unbroken except for photos, suggesting an audience of more confident readers.
VERDICT A WWII book, a rock ‘n’ roll book, a buddy adventure, this should be an easy sell. Highly recommended for middle graders and middle schoolers.

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