At one point in this biography of Johnny Cash (born in 1932 as just J.R., “a name that stood for nothing”), Neri observes that when J.R. first saw June Carter, he was smitten. It’s clear that Neri is smitten as well, with Johnny Cash and his music. As he writes on the cover flap, “he personified the turmoil and triumph of America. His was a uniquely American story I just had to tell.”
Each page of free verse that tells the story of Cash is juxtaposed with absolutely gorgeous oil illustrations by A. G. Ford.
Those who saw the award-winning movie “Walk the Line” will be familiar with some of the anecdotes in this book, but it didn’t make it any less interesting for me. Neri is an excellent writer who knows how to convey thoughts and feelings in a simple, understandable way without the words losing any of their emotional impact.
But the content is distilled from Johnny Cash’s own words. In an interview, Neri explained:
“I made an early decision to use only Johnny’s words as source material. If he didn’t say it or write it, it wasn’t going in. I wanted to tell his story the way he saw it. In fact, it was a hand-written letter he’d written about his mama’s old beat-up Sears Roebuck guitar that made me want to tell his story in the first place. He was a great songwriter but to me an even better writer of prose. He’s known for his voice, but the voice that came from his writing was even deeper. Though I never got the chance to meet the man, his writing was so personal and intimate. By the end, I felt like I had spent a month with him alone by the fireside, talking about every secret he ever held close.”
You’ll feel that way too, when you read this book.
An afterword provides more details about Cash’s life, a timeline of historical events in his lifetime (he died in 2003), an annotated discography, and a bibliography.
Evaluation: This book is intended for readers aged 9–12, but I would say 9 through adult is a better indication of who would enjoy this book. I certainly did.
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014