|Sage reading Billy's book on his back porch|
Billy Beasley, The River Hideaway (Hanford, CA: Oak Tree Press, 2014), 311
“Despite what we accomplish in life, if we have not loved, we are nothing,”according to Apostle Paul. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it,” Solomon proclaimed. Such truths are played out in Billy Beasley's first novel, A River Hideaway. The book is set in my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. The year is 1967 and Bret and his teammates at New Hanover High School have their eyes on the state basketball championship. But before the finals, they must win against their crosstown rivals, "Williston." The segregated days are drawing to a close and Williston, an African-American High School with a proud tradition will be closed as students are integrated into New Hanover High and a new high school that is being built in the county.
The fateful game features two stars. Bret is the son of one of the leading attorneys within the city. He lives a privileged and spoiled life centered on the country club, a sport’s car, and a string of girls. Money, on the other hand, comes from more modest circumstances. He lives with his father, a carpenter. Neither boy’s mother is in their lives. Bret's mother died when he was young while Money's mother moved back to her home in the north, unable to live in the segregated south. There, she lives with her daughter, Teke, Money's younger sister. Although Bret and his team play well, Williston wins. Bret's dreams are shattered, but he has more demons to battle. As the school year comes to a close, he has to decide if he will follow his father's predetermined path for him to leave basketball behind and head to the university to study hard so that he can go to law school and become a partner in the firm. But Bret isn't sure that's what he wants. Within this turmoil, he begins a forbidden friendship with Money and his father.
When Money's sister is sent to her dad's to avoid a violent ex-boyfriend, and even more forbidden friendship develops between Bret and Teke, one that challenges not only Bret's relationship with his family but also with Money and Teke's relationship with her family. You’ll have to read the novel to learn what happened and to be clued in on all the subplots.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just another love story, but don't be mistaken. Beasley’s story deals honestly with issues of race and friendship. Color doesn't seem to make any difference as there are good and bad people on, as we'd say down south, both sides of the tracks. Furthermore, the good and bad can be seen within the same character such as Bret, who uses and discards girls without being bothered by their feelings, but when necessary is able to rise to the occasion and stand for what he feels is right. Nor does this story seem preachy. When offering moral advice explicitly within the story, Beasley weaves it into the story such as having the “cliché” come from the mouth of a dedicated coach who has committed his life to the raising up of young men to be honest as they strive to do their best. In one scene, Bret conjures up a vision from his past, his first basketball coach, who taught him to "Focus on what you can control and waste no time or energy on what you can't." (247)
The story Beasley tells reminds me of the young adult writings of Gary Schmidt, that deals with issues of youth growing up and facing and challenging the adult world they're to inherit. This is especially true with his novel, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (which deals with race relations and the friendship of two children of different races) and The Wednesday Wars (which was also set in the late 60s).
As a matter of disclosure, Billy Beasley was a childhood friend. We both grew up in Wilmington and were together in the 4th grade in Miss Freeman's class during the spring of 1967, the time in which this story was set. I look forward to reading what Billy writes next.