In a world where dreams are possible and nightmares come true, can you romance a memory? James Morrison thinks so. In a snowy cemetery, James reenacts a childhood ritual, unleashing an avalanche of memories. Laugh, cry, and blush with James as he recounts a late twentieth century American Life.
Cemetery Street has been called a “Grittier Bridge to Terabithia“
Told from the perspective of James, Cemetery Street begins with adult James reflecting upon Shannie Ortolan’s grave. The story takes us back to James and Shannie’s meeting and captures the evolution of their friendship and its often confused and conflicted entry into the realm of love.
The novel explores the mix of happiness and tragedy that accompanies us as we navigate our way through the volatile teen years and through the indecision of early adulthood. It reminds us that bonds we establish early in our life echo into our future, shaping who we are and how we relate to the world.
Set in Beyford, a small suburban town of Philadelphia, the novel is populated with the people that shaped James’ life. Shannie, who among other things, introduces him to the sport of dodging freight trains. Count, the cemetery caretaker’s son, helps James navigate the minefields of adolescence until destiny is met in Desert Storm. Russell, an aging blind African-American, guards a horrifying secret behind a cloud of cigar smoke. Diane, Shannie’s mother, a college professor dispels the notion of tweed jackets and elbow patches. Steve Lucas, a mortician’s son, who despite bizarre obsessions, stands by James during his most challenging times. After reading Cemetery Street you may conclude with James that “In a world of presumptuous people, irony is alive and well.”
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What readers say:
I loved this book. I feel one reason is that I lived those times and was around the same age during the 80′s and 90′s as the characters in the stories. This book spoke to me in volumes. The characters are written with a knowledge that shows the author knew those years as well and felt a kinship with his characters as I did while reading it. The 80′s the way I remember them, were a time when friendship meant everything and the mother in this book, unfortunately, reminded me of my own. I identified with the male lead in this book, James, on so many levels and at times felt like I was his female counterpart like John Zunski had taken my story and printed it on paper for the world to read.
The story is about friendship, loss, war, coming to terms with life in general and growing up in a time so much different than today and learning to embrace who you really are.
A truly fantastic novel well worth the read, I will actively seek out more of this authors work in the near future. James, Shannie, and Count will forever be a part of me! Wonderful, wonderful book, I simply can’t praise it enough!
5 Ravens flying high!
Kitty Bullard / Great Minds Think Aloud /
Wow. It’s so powerful and moving. I laughed out loud, I cried silently. I prayed with James and became carefree with Shannie. I saw what my life would be like in her eyes, she encouraged me. I fell in love with Count and mourned his passing. I skydived with James, I felt his sorrow and rejoiced at the burning of the monument. I loved it, such a powerful, touching novel, probably the best I have ever read. –Jennifer
A triumph! This is truly a fabulous book! Zunski artfully tells the coming of age story of James – a young boy faithfully enamored with Shannie, a spunky, smart and funny young blonde, and their friends growing up in a small town near Philadelphia.
This book has stuck with me through some personally overwhelming times of late. I’ve thought about the characters, wondered how they were doing, and when I had time to pick up the book through some very busy months did so as though I was visiting with old friends. It brought a smile to my face to be back in Beyford, back on Cemetery Street with a host of fictional friends. Today, I finally got a chance to sit down and read the last 4 chapters. The characters are so vivid, so real – they are developed skilfully, each dynamic with familiar quirks and sayings. Beyford itself comes alive and you feel like you’ve driven down the center of town or stood outside on the yard between James’ and Shannie’s house.
Zunski has supreme talent at balancing sadness with humor. This book can best be described as bittersweet and the reader is left with a heavy heart when the last chapter is read. Zunski clearly knows the pains of growing up and the loss of innocence that we all, quite sadly, find during those formidable years from early teens through our twenties.
One of the best books I’ve read in years and I think one that will stay with me a long time. This book truly resonated with me in a special way. Highly recommend, but beware: it is an emotional ride!
I was sad to leave Beyford but am looking forward to other works from this author!
James Wallace Birch
The story is told from the perspective of protagonist James Morrison and begins with him, as an adult, reflecting on the loss of a childhood friend-cum-confidant-cum-lover. The story quickly takes root in James’ past where Zunski pieces together the trials and tribulations of the teenage years, as experienced by James and his close knit group of friends, growing up in the shadows of a cemetery. A cemetery which, throughout the story, provides a constant reminder of the fragility and sometimes abbreviated nature of life. Along the train tracks in a small suburban town outside of Philadelphia, James and his friends grow together forging strong ties starting in middle school, into high school and onto college and professional endeavors which pull them apart only physically.
Cemetery Street has several themes working throughout, however, at its core, it is a touching tale of a love that never had the opportunity to fully bloom in a manner befitting the protagonist. A lack of will, unclear desires and a life cut short all intertwine to create a story revealing that our hopes and aspirations always manage to lie beyond our control. Zunski’s storytelling strong hand lies in his suppression of the reveal, choosing instead to focus on character development diving deep into their thoughts, troubles, and challenges. It is done with a certain finesse allowing the reader to become a witness to events rather than merely a page turning machine.
As it must be stated, the novel is not beyond criticism and there were a few elements of the novel which I struggled to digest. Specifically, I found there to be some ‘inauthentic’ language and dialog which had me second guessing specified ages of characters and points in history. Additionally, there were a couple of conflict situations which seemed to accelerate at an unnatural pace. Taken as a whole though, these elements did not cast much of a shadow over what is otherwise a quality piece of work. I look forward to future titles from Zunski!
Novelist Daniel Shortell
I had never heard of John Zunski when I started reading this book. Now I am a fan forever. This is one of the best books of this genre I have ever read. Zunski gives us complete characters and a great plot along with plot twists that keep you guessing and the end–what a way to end a book. I will read more of his work because of this book.
A darker, post-modern take on Bridge to Terabithia. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a young adult book, but it is a coming of age story–the sort of hard growing up that one attains through depth of living and loss.
While not without its lighter, humorous moments that sparkle with delight (my favorites involve the cemetery caretaker and his family), this story is rich with struggle, difficulty, doubt and grief. Altogether its a wonderfully crafted, thoughtful and satisfying tale revolving around a main character who is impossible to read without seeing yourself. Read it and weep.
Zunski is a talented writer who lives in Montana (so you know he’s the real deal). Read it! Review it! Share it!
*This book does contain adult language, especially in the second half.
David Mark Brown
This is refreshingly unique book that looks at death and how it affects friends who grow up with each other. A very thought provoking piece of work.
The author of Cemetery Street has created an intriguing story about love, loss, and friendship.I enjoyed the way that I was able to see each of the younger characters grow and mature while handling the obstacles life threw at them.Anyone who reads this book should have some tissues nearby because I can almost guarantee that you’ll tear up a few times.
Get your tissues out! A great novel written about the “coming of age” of the kids that lived on Cemetery Street in a small town, starting mostly in 1985 and onward. Their triumphs and tragedies weave a compelling story with unexpected twist and turns that will turn into a tearjerker as you get embedded into their lives. This is truly a “must read” you don’t want to miss. I had a hard time putting it down and can’t wait to read the next book by this author!
This is a charming and emotional book. Well written and easy to get caught up in. A good story and enjoyable read.
With a variety of situations that happen in all levels of the society you live in, no matter where you are in the world: angst, pain, love, death, Cemetery Street is set in what I would consider Anytown, US, but what I understood to be emotionally engaging to some, didn’t grab me. I could certainly feel the power of the author’s vision in this “slice of someone’s life” tale and what they wished to present, yet the “all-American” theme especially when including military life has never been one I identified with or care for. Characters were vividly drawn and detailed, no doubting that, and the story moved forward with good pace, and obviously a clear plan, I felt Cemetery Street was a great debut effort, but just wasn’t my type of read.
Cemetery street is a story about so many things. Mainly, it is the story of James Morrison’s life. It is told so beautifully, and with such detail and explicit emotion that it is not even slightly boring. This books gives us such a spectacular view on the commonplace complexities we face constantly in life. Zunski breathes life into everyday occurrences and shows them to us in a brand new light. While reading this, you will get a startling insight on life, love, loss, hate, anger, joy, family, friends, growing up, and most importantly, death. Death is a major theme in this book, making the name of the book and street James grows up on pretty relevant. Death is something we all have to deal with way more often than we would prefer. Sometimes, hearing about others’ experiences helps us with our own. You may find this story does just that for you. I would say love is the next most important theme is this book. James has grown up with his best friend, love of his life, Shannie, living next door. They literally do everything together, they are as close as two people can possibly be without being together. But oh how James wishes they could be. Shannie will forever be the yardstick that everyone else is measured against for James, but I doubt anyone will ever come close to measuring up.
This book definitely has it’s mature moments, there is a little sprinkling of sex here and there. But, the intimate scenes in this book were not placed merely for sex’s sake. Each scene is a major plot/character developing moment and is very tastefully written. The sex scenes play a very important role in the unfolding of this story and they are not in any way vulgar or over the top. I found them to be wonderfully placed and detailed perfectly.
If you have ever seen the movie Stand By Me, which happens to be one of my all time favorite movies, you will understand what I mean when I say that this book has an atmosphere much the same as that movie. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. It’s based of a short story called The Body by Stephen King. This book and that movie just do such an amazing job of capturing the essence that is life and growing up and dealing with life’s blows one by one. This was a really great read and you should probably read it .