“A Boy at Heart,” by Ray M. Vento (Review printed in the 1st edition of 2019)
Hard to realize, with its endless highways and urban sprawl, but, at one time, Los Angeles was a lot like New York and Chicago. The city was designed with a straight line grid to host a well-run public transportation system that took residents to a downtown of elegant department stores, fine restaurants and beautiful theaters. Ray M. Vento grew up in Los Angeles after World War II. The grandson of Sicilian immigrants, he knew his city at the dawn of the hydrocarbon age. He said in an interview on PRIMO’s web site, “Following World War II, as did so many other cities, rapid change became an operative description for how we lived…But what always remained was the beautiful landscape of mountains and ocean cupping the mushrooming of new communities. Back then, it was possible to take a Sunday ride to ski in Big Bear and have a family picnic at a local beach along the way. You would drive by orange groves and roadside farm stands. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s was amazing.” Such recollections inspired the author to conceive a set of children’s books in the “Sam Caruso” series. Three books, thus far, have been published. The main character is one Sam Caruso; much like Vento, a boy of Italian ethnicity living with his parents, a grandfather nearby, and kindly, God-fearing neighbors, in 1950s Los Angeles. In “A Boy at Heart,” Sam celebrates his birthday with a special gift from his Aunt Nancy. They are to see a play at the Biltmore Theater. All dressed up, Sam and his aunt take their seats inside - what was then - one of the country’s most spectacular theaters. The Biltmore was built in 1924, at first, to show silent films and, then, live plays after World War II. In 1964, it was demolished for a parking lot. “A Boy at Heart” comes alive in water color illustrations by Jay Mazhar. These are the kinds of heartwarming pictures we grew up with; before children’s stories were ruled by abstract and esoteric drawings. Ray writes a story that reminds us of when we were young; when we lived in close proximity to our aunts, uncles and cousins. When family gatherings were absolute. When a child’s birthday was to be attended by all and a happy time was guaranteed. “A Boy at Heart” is more than a tale of innocence. It is a book that reminds us what true fantasy is - not Never Never Land, but a time and place that should be resurrected, retained and forever valued. “A Boy at Heart” is exceptional!