Title: Tramps and Vagabonds
Author: Aster Glenn Gray
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 261 Pages
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 4.5 Stars
At a Glance: Aster Glenn Gray’s commitment to deliver impeccable historical detail in Tramps and Vagabonds is nothing short of impressive. Readers who love to delve into a beautifully researched and detailed tale of bygone days that, in the end, flourishes into a happy ending for its characters should spend some time on the road with James and Tim.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: “We’re in this together, share and share alike, you said, and you got to let me share the bad too.”
Bold, streetwise James has been riding the rails in the midst of the Great Depression ever since he ran away from his uncle’s house two years ago. When he pauses to catch his breath with a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps, he meets Timothy, who has never spent a day on the road but sure would like to give it a try.
James figures sweet angel-faced Timothy will last a few weeks at most. They’ll jump a train or two, see some of the country, maybe fool around a little: on the road no one minds much about two boys canoodling. Then Timothy will get tired of slumming it, and head on home.
In the meantime, Timothy’s just as much fun as James hoped and then some, and tougher than he looks, too. Soon James and Timothy share everything, splitting whatever food and money and good times they can scrounge, and leaning on each other when they run into trouble.
But summer fades into autumn, and James knows that Timothy ought to go home before the deadly winter arrives. James can’t stand to keep Timothy in danger, but can he bear to lose him?
Review: “James realized all of a sudden that he’d got Tim all wrong: he didn’t smile because the world had been good to him, he smiled to pacify a world that had treated him pretty bad.”
Aster Glenn Gray’s commitment to deliver impeccable historical detail Tramps and Vagabonds is nothing short of impressive. The transient experience during the Great Depression is brought to vivid life through two young men, James and Timothy, who take to the road together with a few dollars in their pockets and nowhere in particular they have to be after finishing up a summer stint with the CCC, a program instituted by Roosevelt to put young men to work during a time when jobs, money, food, and security were scarce, if not non-existent.
Tramps and Vagabonds is not a fast-paced story but rather, one that takes readers on a journey with its characters, parsing out their backstories while showcasing their tenacity and perseverance and will to survive through the toughest of times. Companionship and adventure was James’s intent when he invited Tim, a boy from the opposite side of the tracks, to join him for a summer on the road. And if a little fooling around came along with it, all the better, before James sends Tim back home for the winter. What it meant to take up space in a “hobo jungle” and every person’s contribution to the community meant share and share alike. To say Tim wouldn’t have survived without James’s experience and know-how is not an understatement—bartering, begging, stealing, and doing odd jobs in exchange for a meal were only a fraction of what Timothy learned in their time together. He is decidedly out of his element and dependent upon James for everything, and that dependence does not come without its share of violence, danger, and conflict, even if some of their days could be described as idyllic.
The author enfolds James and Tim’s companionship into the bigger picture of the vagabond life—the good, the bad, and the harsh of it. Much like matelotage amongst pirates, it wasn’t unusual for transient men to pair up on the road, and the way those relationships were defined depended upon the men involved. Two men being partnered was, by and large, accepted within the community, though those partnerships weren’t always what could be considered healthy, exemplified by the Wolfs and Punks. The need—the desperation—to put a roof over their head for a night and food in their bellies meant James trading sex with an old friend as a means of survival, which was not an easy lesson for Tim to learn, let alone accept, as his feelings for James had already surpassed those of mere friendship. That said, readers shouldn’t expect a conventional romance, even though there is a definite romanticism to the story that, in some aspects, mirrors the trains James and Tim jump—they have to take it slow and time the leap with no small amount of calculation and precision, or they could be hurt.
Being familiar with some of the terrain covered in Tramps and Vagabonds no doubt served to fuel my investment in the story as James and Tim toured the Indiana University campus in Bloomington and walked the sidewalks of downtown Indianapolis. St. Elmo Steakhouse, the Wheeler Mission—though not named specifically did serve as a transient relief station during the Depression—the Indianapolis Public Library, and Union Station (though no longer a train station) are some of the locales seen through the lens of hardship in a bygone era and are all familiar to me, which unquestionably made the reading a more intimate experience. I learned a few things along the way, too, which is never not welcome.
Readers who love to delve into a beautifully researched and detailed historical novel that, in the end, flourishes into a happy ending for its characters should spend some time on the road with these tramps and vagabonds.
You can buy Tramps and Vagabonds here:
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