Fic­tion

The Prince of Steel Pier

  • Review
By – August 22, 2022

It’s 1975, and thir­teen-year-old Joey Good­man is spend­ing the sum­mer at his grand­par­ents’ declin­ing kosher hotel, the St. Bonaven­ture, in Atlantic City, New Jer­sey. Joey some­times feels for­got­ten as the third of four broth­ers in an oth­er­wise lov­ing and live­ly extend­ed fam­i­ly. When he’s not help­ing out at the hotel as an unpaid wait­er-in-train­ing, Joey explores the board­walk, a land­scape that is shift­ing now that gam­bling has been legal­ized. Casi­nos will soon pop­u­late the area, threat­en­ing old­er busi­ness­es like the St. Bonaven­ture and alter­ing Joey’s future.

When the teen encoun­ters a group of local mob­sters who seem par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed with his Skee-Ball abil­i­ties, his sum­mer plans are irrev­o­ca­bly changed. The boss, Artie Bish­op, takes a lik­ing to Joey and soon offers him the oppor­tu­ni­ty to chap­er­one his vis­it­ing teenage daugh­ter, Melanie. Although Joey feels con­flict­ed about these new con­nec­tions, which require him to lie to his fam­i­ly, he’s also enticed by the mon­e­tary agree­ments that afford him more than enough mon­ey to pur­chase the cam­era he’s been eye­ing. Plus, Joey can’t help but feel proud to have earned the trust and appre­ci­a­tion of some­one like Artie. Despite know­ing that things are def­i­nite­ly seedy behind the scenes, Joey finds him­self becom­ing fur­ther embroiled in the group’s activ­i­ties. When he unwit­ting­ly involves the St. Bonaven­ture and puts his fam­i­ly in harm’s way, he must come to terms with his decep­tions, choic­es, and true loyalties.

Joey’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty is insep­a­ra­ble from the sto­ry, in large part because his fam­i­ly is obser­vant and prac­tic­ing. The book also touch­es on oth­er aspects of Jew­ish life, like Joey’s expe­ri­ences with anti­semitism and his thought-pro­vok­ing insights and ques­tions about reli­gion and God.

Although some of the predica­ments Joey faces are not typ­i­cal teen expe­ri­ences, his voice feels authen­tic, and read­ers will empathize with his strug­gles and inner mono­logue as he adapts to a chang­ing world — and the detailed set­ting of Atlantic City dur­ing the sev­en­ties adds a com­pelling layer.

Filled with mys­tery, may­hem, and mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships, this fast-paced his­tor­i­cal nov­el will cap­ture any reader’s attention.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

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