The Art of Raising Hell
“There are some people that walk around on two feet and others like me that run on all four.”
To most people, that’s a bold statement. I just wish I’d been the one to say it, but I wasn’t. In fact, until a few days ago, I wasn’t even sure what it meant.
You might say that, on the surface, it’s a very simple concept: Either you’re the type of person who lives within a set of boundaries or the type who knows none. But life is never that simple, is it? No, I’d say that the most important insights about who we are, what we say, and why we do things are not always the obvious ones. Instead, they’re discovered on the streets of your hometown, revealed late at night in a dark backroom, or sometimes forced upon you at knifepoint where your only choices for survival are between bad and worse.
In The Art of Raising Hell, Newbie Johnson has recently moved to Bunsen Creek, Illinois, when his mother is killed in a tragic car crash. His father does his best to maintain a normal household, but his broken heart is just not up to the task. Newbie finds solace by hanging out with his three buddies in their clandestine Backroom hideout. Getting into mischief becomes their favorite pastime as they try to follow in the footsteps of Lonny Nack, who has perfected the art of running on all four.
“Running on all four” takes on a new meaning for Newbie when he finds his inner voice and begins to understand the difference between chasing life and being chased by it.
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Reviewed by Hilary Hawkes for Readers' Favorite
Thomas Lopinski’s The Art of Raising Hell is the story of young Ryan Johnson (nicknamed Newbie by his friends and throughout the book) and is set in the 1970s. Newbie and his father move to Bunsen Creek, Illinois, after the tragic death of his mom in a car crash. Newbie is intrigued and drawn to an older school mate, good-hearted Lonny Nack, and his philosophy of “running on all fours.” This means being unique, being yourself, taking risks and, for Lonny, sometimes breaking a few laws and ending up in the detention center. Newbie and his three friends get caught up in all the usual and some not so usual experiences, challenges, relationships, sadness, and lessons of normal growing up and being teenagers in high school. But Newbie, always affected by his mother’s death and influence, finds his deepest connections are with others who have experienced similar traumas. He seeks some sort of revenge and justice for his friend Sally, and the suspicious tragedy that eventually befalls Lonny.
Lopinski is a brilliant writer with a distinct authorial tone. He writes in first person, as Newbie telling his own story, and draws the reader right into the plot. All the characters in The Art of Raising Hell are well depicted and believable, particularly Newbie and Lonny. The plot goes at a good pace with plenty of action, surprise and suspense. At the same time the inner worlds and motivations of the main characters are explored with great insight and move the story onwards. As Newbie grasps Lonny’s philosophy of living in a way that is true to the soul, so the reader experiences his gradual blossoming into a young adult who is developing the wisdom to become himself.