Book Review for “The Boys Next Door: A Novel of the Beatles” by Dan Greenberger.
Summary: “Alan Levy is a college student who, in the fall of 1960, spends a semester abroad in Hamburg, Germany. There, he has the misfortune to rent a room next door to an up-and-coming rock and roll band from the North of England. They call themselves the Beatles. They are loud, rambunctious, and high-spirited. They are wildly unconventional (at least compared to Alan’s Ivy League polish) and play horrible, jarring music at all hours of the night. They are friends, however, with a young woman with whom Alan has fallen hopelessly in love—a beautiful German photographer named Astrid. The Boys Next Door is a bittersweet love story and a tall tale; a fast-paced, comic what-if, and a true fantasy fulfillment for Beatles fans everywhere. It’s a loving evocation of a time when rock and roll was new and dangerous, and when the lads from Liverpool were taking their first baby steps toward conquering the world.”
Confession time: I went to High School with the author, who, despite my friendship on Facebook, didn’t know I had a book review blog! Well, when one of our classmates congratulated him on the publication of his first novel, I did a little “ahem… did you know” comment on the thread and that netted me a review copy from him! Now, this isn’t the first of my classmates to write a book (and although Allison Burnett went to the same school, he was actually year behind me), but it is the first time I’ve had the chutzpah to ask for a review copy. But you know, the idea of biographical, historical (just barely) fiction novel is totally up my alley, and the Beatles… come on! Of course, I couldn’t help myself! (I just hope my other classmate, who offered me an ARC of his upcoming novel (a psychological thriller – and therefore, not really my thing), won’t be too upset with me for turning him down, and then begging for this book.)
Personal connections aside, I have to admit that I had essentially no expectations about this book. This means I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this story. I knew that Greenberger could write, since he’s won awards for his TV and movie writing. But screenwriting and novel writing aren’t exactly the same thing. However, they both do require a keen focus on character development, and this is what comes through in this novel as the highlight. Alan isn’t a very likeable fellow at the beginning of this book. In fact, he’s a typical American pompous snob, that has some semi-misogynistic tendencies thrown in, for good measure. However, as he gets more involved with the goings surrounding the guys he immediately hates, he slowly becomes more agreeable, if still ultimately self-centered. Obviously, his own realization as to how selfish and opinionated he can be, blends a coming-of-age element to this story. There’s also a well-developed, but not overtly romantic component here as well, with Alan’s mourning his loss of his girl back home, and transferring that angst to the unavailable Astrid.
While this might seem quite a lot of ingredients to put into one story, I found it wasn’t the least bit confusing, and worked very nicely, especially because each part contributed something different to the story. Together with this, Greenberger injects swaths of humor, and I found myself laughing out loud, chuckling, guffawing, and generally having a grin on my face every time I put the book down (which I did while regretting how life was getting in the way of continuing to read), or thought about it. Since Greenberger employs a first-person narrative, there’s an element of self-effacement that helps this humor along, while we also realize that Alan Levy might not be the most reliable of narrators. Beatles fans will also notice some slyly placed comments and passages that nod to things we know came true after this time period, which also bring up a smile.
I think you can tell by now that I really enjoyed this novel. It was sprightly written peek into the early years of one of the world’s most iconic rock bands, that’s both a quick and fun read. Mind you, it isn’t totally perfect. There were a couple of plot lines that got left in the air that disturbed me, that made the ending feel a bit rushed and incomplete. Furthermore, although there was a real Alan Levy who had some connection to the Beatles, I don’t think he’s the same one who Greenberger used as his protagonist, but everyone else – including Astrid (whose photograph of the Beatles is on the cover of this novel) – were real people, so the research here was pretty good, except for a few inaccuracies (one of which I told the author about already) that jarred me when I read them. However, I really can’t hold back in recommending this for lovers of historical, biographical fiction, especially those who are also music lovers and Beatles fans (and maybe even for those who aren’t)! For a debut novel, it certainly deserves kudos, and I think it also deserves four and a half stars out of five! Rock on, Boys!
Appian Way Press released “The Boys Next Door: A Novel of the Beatles” by Dan Greenberger on July 18, 2020. This book is available from Amazon (affiliate link). I would like to thank the author for sending me a review copy of this novel.