Book Bag: “Apartment 1986” by Lisa Papademetriou; “The One-Eyed Judge” by Michael Ponsor

Thursday, June 15, 2017


By Lisa Papademetriou



On the surface, things seem pretty good for seventh-grader Callie.

Her family has moved from New Jersey to Manhattan, courtesy of her dad’s new job with a prestigious financial firm. Callie goes to a fancy private school, and one of her new friends has tickets for the Friday night show of pop music’s hottest new sensation.

But in Lisa Papademetriou’s new middle-grade novel, “Apartment 1986,” all that glitters is not gold. Callie’s dad loses his job, his company having collapsed, and he and Callie’s mother are fighting about money. Callie doesn’t really like her snooty new school, either, while her younger brother, Desmond, is being bullied in his.

Lately Callie’s been having trouble getting to school on time, and soon she’s skipping it altogether, playing hooky in, of all places, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, There she meets a a kid her age, Cassius, who also seems a little adrift, and the two, after some initial friction — she calls Cassius “Grouchy Boy” at first — become friends.

Papademetriou, who lives in Florence, has fashioned a coming-of-age novel in which Callie’s world expands outward to encompass increasingly complex issues. For instance, there’s the racism, subtle or otherwise, that Cassius, a light-skinned black kid, experiences. Then there’s the issue of her dead uncle, Larry, whom she learns was gay.

As it turns out, Larry was rejected by Callie’s late grandfather because of his homosexuality. Callie can’t square this discovery with her beloved Grandma Hindy, who lives in an East Side apartment Callie regularly visits. “A bigger part of me … is a little mad at my grandmother for marrying such a jerk.”

As Callie tries to learn more about her family’s past, she has to wonder if her grandmother’s seeming interest in an older man in her building, Earl Johnson, is also connected to the past, her relationship with her deceased son and her need to come to terms with it. 

After all, Mr. Johnson, in Apartment 1986, “lives in a museum,” as Callie puts it, that seems dedicated to the 1980s: It’s full of old VHS movies, such as “Back to the Future,” and books by writers like John Irving — as well as a Pee-wee Herman doll. Why does Grandma Hindy look back so much to this era?

Life is more complicated than it looks, Callie figures. “The strange thing about other people is how impossible it is to know them,” she says. “All of their thoughts are just this big, mysterious universe behind locked doors.”



By Michael Ponsor

Open Road Intengrated Media


Judge Michael Ponsor drew on his lengthy legal experience, including his work since the 1990s in U.S. District Court in Springfield, for his debut novel, “The Hanging Judge,” in 2014. The thriller, set in the Valley and inspired in part by a real case Ponsor oversaw here, ended up making the New York Times bestseller list.

Now Ponsor, an Amherst resident, is back with a sequel, “The One-Eyed Judge,” which again takes place in this region. Longtime Amherst College English professor Sidney Cranmer, a bit of a curmudgeon but a respected scholar, is at home one day when FBI agents suddenly pour in and begin searching his house.

Cranmer is accused of trafficking in child pornography, and though he insists the illicit material agents find isn’t his, the case against him looks solid. It doesn’t help that Cranmer’s latest research project is on Lewis Carroll, author of  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and, according to some, a pedophile.

Presiding over the ensuing trial is David Norcross, the main character from “The Hanging Judge.” Norcross is still nursing wounds from his previous case, and he’s wondering if he should have recused himself from this new one since his girlfriend, Claire Lindemann, is a colleague of Cranmer — and she’s convinced her fellow Amherst professor is innocent.

Norcross’s life is about to get even more complicated, as a sudden, unrelated tragedy leaves the judge responsible for his two young nieces. Meanwhile, a violent child predator is revealed in the area, one who poses a threat to Norcross’s new family.

The Washington Post called Ponsor “a talent to watch” after his first book, and in his new one, the author explores what he describes as “some of the darker passages that judges routinely travel.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Michael Ponsor reads from “The One-Eyed Judge” Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Broadside Books in Northampton and on June 28 at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.