Title: All You Need is Love
Author: Russell J. Sanders
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: March 21, 2017
Genre(s): Coming of Age, Historical
Page Count: 220
Reviewed by: Crabbypatty
Heat Level: 2.5 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
It is 1969 when Dewey Snodgress, high school theater star, meets irrepressible hippie Jeep Brickthorn, who quickly inserts himself into Dewey’s life—and eventually into his heart. Meanwhile, Dewey prepares to appear in a production across town, a play about protestors of the Vietnam War, where he befriends the wild and wonderful Lucretia “LuLu” Belton, who is also determined to follow her dreams and become an actress—whether her parents approve or not.
The show has a profound effect, especially on Dewey’s father, who reconsiders his approval of the war after his son’s performance. But Dewey knows his dad won’t be so accepting if he reveals the love he’s developing for Jeep, so he fights to push his feelings away and keep the peace in his family.
Still, Dewey can’t ignore the ripples moving through society—from the impending Woodstock Festival to the Stonewall Riots—and he begins to see that the road to happiness and acceptance for him and Jeep might lead them away from conservative Fort Worth, Texas—and Dewey’s dad.
It’s 1969 and The Times They Are A’Changin’ … but in North Texas boys wear pressed Levis and button-down shirts to school, the standard haircut is the flattop, the school day starts with morning devotions, any kind of cold soda is called a Coke (no matter the brand) and it’s “hippie freak” never just hippie, always “hippie freak.”
High school senior Dewey Snodgrass is a sweet somewhat naive boy who loves acting and singing. When Dewey is invited to join a theater production about a diverse group of teenagers putting together a Vietnam protest, he is surprised to learn his role is a gay young man. Dewey can’t even think the word, much less say it, or process that he himself might be gay … despite his growing interest in his classmate Jeep Brickthorn, one of those tie-dyed t-shirt wearing “hippie freaks.”
I have to admit it took a while to get around to reading this book (I’ve been more in the murder/mystery mood lately), but once I started “All You Need is Love,” I could not put it down. The author does a wonderful job of introducing us to the 1960’s and Dewey’s mindset. We get Dewey’s POV throughout as he experiences some firsts. When meeting his costar Lucretia (“LuLu”) Belton, he thinks: “It feels weird, shaking a colored — no, I think they like “black” now — person’s hand for the first time.” Dewey meets the director Ben, who is an out and proud gay man with a partner, Paul – another first for this small town North Texas boy.
Russell Sanders gives us a full range of secondary characters and they are lovingly fleshed out – LuLu with her Hollywood dreams and pragmatic personality; Dewey’s beloved drama teacher Mr. Waters, his set-in-his-ways Daddy, his cousin Jo and her parents, and especially Dewey’s bully Butch. Sanders takes Butch and slowly peels away his meanness to reveal a lonely sweet boy who doesn’t have much going for him. You really end up caring about these characters – their joys touch you deeply, their sorrows break your heart.
The relationship that slowly develops between Dewey and Jeep is equal parts tender, funny, poignant and at times agonizing as Dewey finally embraces his true self. There are only a few sexual scenes, but the love Jeep feels for Dewey is evident in his every word and action.
My only niggle was that the ending of the story wrapped up very quickly and I would have liked another scene or two with Dewey and his parents. “All You Need is Love” is a beautifully written deeply touching story about coming of age in a very difficult time, and I highly recommend it!
Life deserves work. Make it happen. Don’t just sit back and let life wash over you, whether it’s choir or school or a job or love.