Novel weaves an authentic tale of coming of age in the old South

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when boys’ haircuts were white sidewalls, flattops and ducktails, when it was said a little dab’ll do ya, but it never really did. Back to those days in the Ol’ Dominion when segregation was strictly enforced, but liquor laws not so much.

Better yet, let longtime Nevada investigative reporter and editor A.D. Hopkins take you there in his new novel, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” Yes, the boys might’ve awakened early on occasion, but what they “woke up” was rural Early County and Jubal Early High School, named for a Confederate general. 

A.D.’s teenaged narrator of the tale is named Thomas Jackson Shelor, named after another Confederate general who went by the nickname Stonewall, so Shelor was called Stonewall, which was soon shortened to Stony.

The novel captures the quaint dialect — including language that can be occasionally coarse but authentic — the shabby scenery, nefarious political machinations, family feuds and strained race relations in such detail that you think you are looking at a photo instead of a painting. The plot constantly twists and turns as Stony and his friend, newcomer Jack, confront moonshiners, whorehouse operators and Klansmen.

For a guy who spent nearly half a century in newspaper journalism, which is not known for florid descriptives, Hopkins the novelist can turn a phrase, such as when he introduces jazz aficionado Jack in the opening chapter: “When the bell fell silent, we could hear only his leather heels striking the concrete like an unhurried drummer building for some fellow musician to launch a solo.”

Hopkins and I worked together for more than 20 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The book is laced with homespun conspiracies, displays of chivalry, dirty tricks, righteous revenge and conflicts that frequently result in gunplay, fisticuffs and the strategic use of ax handles and baseball bats. 

Here is an example of the kind of dialogue and tense action A.D. offers in page after page. This tells of Stony going to the aid of a classmate named Mary Lou who was about to be attacked by Klansmen for dating a black man named Roosevelt:

“Stony! Why’re you sneaking in my back door? And you look like a drowned cat!”

I said, “The Ku Klux Klan is coming is coming up here to hurt you. They beat up Roosevelt. Do you have any guns?

Instead of answering, she jumped up and ran to the front door and locked it, then to the back and locked it, too. Then she ran up the stairs and I followed her, trying to tell her more.

“I need a better gun,” I said. “All I got is this little .25 and just the six bullets in it.”

While I was saying this, she yanked a pair of panties on under the nightgown, so fast I saw absolutely nothing a Baptist boy wasn’t supposed to. She pulled on a pair of bib overalls, stuffing the nightgown into the overalls like a long shirt. She pulled on socks and pair of high-top shoes, which she didn’t take time to tie. …

“Where do you think we should make our stand?” I asked in a half whisper as soon as we were out in the dark.

“We don’t make a stand,” she answered. “If we make one, somebody probably gets shot, probably us. The idea is to live through it!”

The Boys Who Woke Up Early” is a satisfying page turner. Published by Imbrifex Books, it is available online and in some local bookstores.

A.D. Hopkins at book signing.