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Charles Wesley Onions is cruising through life as only a twelve-year-old can: aimlessly consuming all the comic books he can afford, and dodging an endless stream of school bullies. Then, he meets octogenarian Sandrine Galano Fuller and his hapless young life changes forever.

In this captivating offbeat novel, called, simply, Onions, author Cy Young draws the reader deep into the unlikely but fascinating story of Onions’ escape from an adolescent hell of foster homes and petty thievery into a wary friendship with Fuller, who begins the slow process of building the boy’s self esteem.

Written skillfully in the tradition of John Irving and his always-outre casts of characters, Onions rises above the stereotypical coming-of-age storyline so popular among many Young Adult novels these days to render a tale both sweet and fulfilling.

Charles Wesley (C.W.) quickly gets recruited into Mrs. Fuller’s zany campaign to derail a plan by local power brokers to build a taxpayer-funded sports arena. The plan has been cooked up in a smoke-filled back room by crooked city hall officials, who would receive handsome kickbacks from bad apple builders like this succinctly summed-up mayoral crony:

“Zinnerman’s short, hefty legs were crossed at the ankles revealing his passion: red, green, and orange argyle socks. His thin-lipped smile was like the bottom line of a ledger.”

This kind of priceless exposition abounds in the book, which also features such disparate (but crucial) plot elements as skinny-dipping senior citizens, big bore trumpet solos from The Wizard of Oz, and treetop aerobatics by a leaflet-dropping ultralight aircraft.

The narrative dips and weaves its way through Onions’ euphoric highs and devastating lows on the way to a surprising conclusion that finds C.W. many years later standing center stage at Madison Square Garden — a living testament to just what a single act of kindness at a crucial time can do to a troubled teen. It is a moral worth remembering in these perilous times of senseless school violence.

Five-plus stars to Onions for unparalleled storytelling and quirky characterizations that inspire deep reader empathy for some players, disdain for others and a fascination for all.

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