If you can imagine Huckleberry Finn crossed with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, then you have a sense of what Stanley James has to offer. This satirically humorous, occasionally dark, but always intensely human novel will trigger every familiar emotion and may even awaken some that are dormant. It is so engaging that it comes with a warning, but few readers will be able to stop reading before they are swept away and changed by this incredible story of a learning disabled boy.
Stanley James is born December 21, 1950, in Alexandria, Minnesota, where progress is an article of faith, and the new middle class lives in homogenous homes on tree-named streets. Marring the optimism of this small town are whispers of damaged children, of inappropriate miracles and of other unmentionable imperfections. One of the flawed children is Stanley James, another is the narrator. They and a number of other kids are imperfect children - damaged little souls that don’t quite meet the expectations of this idyllic small town. At Saint Mary’s Catholic school they are gathered up, labeled “retarded,” and neatly packed away in the Ungraded Room, where they are entrusted to Sister Mary Ann. Like the God of the Old Testament, Sister Mary Ann is powerful, aloof and dedicated to justice. She will never punish a child who doesn’t deserve it, but she will never miss an opportunity to do so.
While the story focuses on three “retards” - Stanley, Dave and the narrator - others play major roles in this savory stew of human emotions. Various events contribute to the reader’s understanding of the character of the retards, the kids from the regular room, and the adults that populate their world. Among the defective children in the Upgraded Room are – Jimmy, a boy who is most often off in a world of his own; Robert, a tough kid who once lived in the projects; and George Ann, a bipolar basket case. Tommy, not a retard, but the most popular boy in the regular room, is not what he appears to be. He alone understands that, while he appears to be the perfect boy, he too is defective.
As Stanley James and the boys smoke stolen cigarettes in secret places, they try to solve theological, ethical, and pragmatic problems. While the manner of their speech is naively simplistic, the conversations provide profound and disturbing insights into complex spiritual issues. Surely many of Stanley’s thought are heretical, but are they more coherent than society’s’ orthodox truths?
Clyde Henry’s extraordinary novel, Stanley James, is the story of a hero that you will never be able to forget. Once you meet him, Stanley James will live in your heart forever.