”The Last Good Halloween”
By Giano Cromley
Billings is a great setting for first-book writers as we witnessed a few years ago when Craig Lancaster penned “600 Hours of Edward,” which went on to win the Best First Book Award of the High Plains Book Awards. With Giano Cromley’s “The Last Good Halloween,” we may soon see another Best First Book that is set in Billings.
Kirby Russo has a harder time being 15 than most. His parents have split, the next-door neighbor Uncle Harley has moved in, and Kirby does not care for changes in his small family. There have been quite a few father figures in Kirby’s life, starting with the Billings Mustangs third baseman whose pro career didn’t last much longer than his season in Billings. Kirby refers to him as the “Original Biological Contributor.” Finally, Kirby’s mom meets Bradley Kellogg, the CPA, and, “From the moment he became the head of our household, life took on a steady, dependable rhythm. He was the stepfather equivalent of Ronald Reagan.”
Every spring after tax season, Bradley takes a walkabout. He always comes back until the summer when Kirby goes to Computer Camp. When he returns, he hopes to see Bradley’s car in the driveway. He doesn’t. Debbie, Kirby’s mom, denies knowing where he is. Harley doesn’t know, either.
One afternoon Kirby returns from school and finds himself in the house alone. He thumbs through the pile of mail in the mailbox to discover a letter from Bradley addressed to his mother. Kirby (being young and not caring that it’s wrong to read other people’s mail) opens it and knows he must find Bradley and put his family back together again. Kirby makes a plan that will involve taking off a day of school, getting his two friends Julian and Izzy to go along, “borrowing” a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, and heading to Great Falls where Bradley’s sister once lived.
Cromley does a good job of setting up the hero quest story. The reader wants Kirby to find his step-dad and have life back. The story clips on at a good pace with the inevitable stumbling blocks in the teen’s plan of attack: Kirby thinks Bradley will surely be in Great Falls and forgets that Montana has blizzards in October.
While the story is enjoyable, not all of the characters are likable. Kirby talks harshly and doesn’t always realize the people who care for him might not appreciate his tone. Cromley doesn’t really let us know much about Kirby’s mom, Debbie, except that Kirby never calls her “Mom” or “Mother.” The story never really addresses the reason for their tense relationship.
As a character, Izzy is a delight, but Cromley never really shows why she is willing to help Kirby. The story as a whole I would also like this book to have another fifty pages so that we can learn why Kirby and his mother have such a tense relationship.
Not too many of us would like to be 15 again. But we can all enjoy a road trip through life written as well as Giano Cromley has done with “The Last Good Halloween.”