Reading Young Americans is likely a bit like actually living through the era the novel depicts – fun and flirty with an unmistakable edge to both. Josh Stallings has crafted a collection of characters you can’t help but root for and a plot that hustles across the page at breakneck pace.
Young Americans is a classic heist novel in that the motivations and desired results are what one would expect; yet the originality of the participants and the unique setting situate the book apart from the others of the type. Readers looking for a quick read, some hilarious dialogue, and a brief glimpse into a forgotten time will find much to enjoy in Josh Stallings’ tale.
As the novel opens, Samantha – but please call her Sam – is working at a strip club in Humboldt County, California. She is a big girl but makes no apologies for it. Raised in a criminal family, Sam sees stripping as her effort toward a legitimate lifestyle. But as it often does, the past rears its ugly head when Sam gets herself involved in some internal power struggles among her corrupt acquaintances and must flee for her safety.
Needing to hide out, Sam returns to her hometown of San Francisco and hooks up with her old gang of friends. Her brother Jacob is also hanging around, constantly trying to impress Sam’s childhood best friend, Candy, so that Candy might take a romantic interest in him. The reunion is short-lived as Sam’s attempt at subterfuge collapses around her.
Their only option to keep the tight-knit gang safe and intact is by agreeing to perpetrate a heist at the local disco hotspot, Taxi Dancer. The casing of the joint and planning for the raid provide many entertaining vignettes. Of course, on the night of the heist, shenanigans ensue and when two of their own are put in danger, Sam and her friends must ratchet up their seriousness.
Josh Stallings brings the disco era and the glitter kids who populate it to vivid life. By including vintage details – such as films, music, and magazines – he is able to emerse the reader in this world. Yes, the characters are essentially low-level criminals, but since they are in this predicament through no fault of their own, readers will cheer for them guilt-free. Double crosses and hijinks keep the gang on their toes.
And what a gang it is: Sam and Jacob are the main focus, but it is Valentina Creamrosa, a transgender African-American amazon, who stole my heart. She gets the funniest quips and her unrequited love for Jacob’s friend Terry is very sweet. The group is a family – not of blood, but of choice – and they will do what they have to in order to protect their own. Josh Stallings’ Young Americans is a crime novel with a heart of gold.
“Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall steal.”
– Josh Stallings, Young Americans
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.