“Johnny Get Your Gun” By John Ball 

40122483“Johnny Get Your Gun”
By John Ball
Narrated by: Dion Graham
Series: Virgil Tibbs, Book 3
Length: 5 hrs and 1 min
Release date: 06-25-15
Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Once again the AudiobookSYNC YA summer of free audiobooks has left me with a gem.  Once a week every summer they release 2 free audiobooks targeted to the Young Adult market.  I had originally started downloading these books for my son and I to enjoy.  Now that he’s older we share other interests, but my interest in audiobooks will never go away.  So, I keep downloading and keep listening.  This past summer, there were great selections, but unfortunately the system they use to distribute is not compatible with my system and most of the selections did not completely download.  The ones I did manage to download have all turned out to be great reads/listens.

As with most of they SYNC YA summer books, I rarely know too much about the book.  The site pairs up 2 books each week, with the books related on some theme.  I’m guessing the week this one was downloaded the theme was race relations.  I don’t know since the second book in the pairing was one lost to the non-compatible systems.  There is a summary of each books, much like the Publisher’s Summaries I give at the end of each of my reviews.  Just enough information to let you know what you are getting into.  This one sounded like an interesting read so I tried to download it.  It worked.

When the book first starts out we hear of a family just moved to Pasadena, CA from Tennessee.  The father is full of anger, and uses the n-word as if it were any other word.  (Keep in mind this book takes place in the late ’60s when segregation was being fought hard.)  We then follow the child in the family whose prize possession is a transistor radio on which he listens to his favorite baseball team the Anaheim Angels. 9 year-old Johnny met Gene Autry (the singing cowboy and owner of the Angels) when he was younger and became a fan of the team, especially the catcher, Tom Satriano.  Johnny was saving his money to buy a catcher’s outfit to become a catcher and replace Satriano when he grew up.

The problem begins when Johnny’s father cuts off a driver on the highway due to road rage and with the impending court date will not be able to take Johnny to an Angels game.  Johnny, seeks solace in his radio and takes it to school to listen to the game at lunch.  A bully takes the radio away and in the struggle to retrieve it, the radio gets broken.  Johnny, knowing that his father would not want him to not let others get the upper hand, goes home and finds his father’s gun and threatens to shoot the bully.

Once Johnny phones the bully and let’s him know of his plans the police are called.  This is where my surprise comes in.  The detective assigned to the case is Virgil Tibbs.  When I first here the name, I’m struck with the idea that I know this name.  Then rolling through my brain is the Sidney Poitier quote, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.”   After it annoys me enough I look it up and yes it is the same character.  This book is a sequel to  “In The Heat of the Night.”  I am now fully onboard and make sure I soak in every detail of this book.

The hunt for Johnny and his father’s gun becomes more intense as Johnny shoots through his bully’s window, then shoots a teenage black youth.  The second shooting becomes what could be the beginning of a racially motivated riot.  Virgil Tibbs tracks Johnny down from Pasadena to Anaheim, while trying to sooth racial tension and prevent any further shooting.

The amazing thing about this book, is that reading it nearly 50 years later the racial tensions are still there, guns still get in the wrong hands and bullies still torment children.  In other words, this is an unfortunately timeless story in that all the subject matter covered never seems to get resolved.

The narrator performed the audiobook flawlessly and his portrayal of Virgil Tibbs was spot on.

Do yourself a favor and pick up this timeless classic.

Publisher’s Summary
Johnny Get Your Gun (also known as Death for a Playmate) is the third in the Virgil Tibbs mystery series that began with In the Heat of the Night. In this story, a nine-year-old boy, lonely after a family move, shoots an older child who stole something from him, thus igniting the militant blacks and racist whites of 1960s Pasadena into a black-white conflict involving riots, brutalities, a chase through Disneyland, and a heart-warming as well as heart-breaking scene toward the end of the book that takes place in a baseball park of the California Angels. Here you will find childhood gone awry, racism that ought to shock but in context does not (we know it too well), and political conflicts that add fuel to the fire.
©1969 John Ball (P)2015 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.